WILLIAMSTOWN -- A motion to approve a conservation restriction for 39 acres of land off of Oblong Road failed at Monday night’s meeting of the Selectmen.
The three members present, vice-chair Jane Allen, Ronald Turbin and Thomas Sheldon, did not agree on whether the restriction should be made by an incomplete board of selectmen or, at Allen’s suggestion, appear as a warrant at town meeting. The issue could come back before the board at a future meeting when all five members will be present.
The proposal, made by the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation and landowner Eric White, would protect three parcels of historic agricultural land currently owned by White and his wife. Allen, citing a need for building projects and more affordable housing in town, suggested no new land be placed into conservation until a community-wide discussion about land use in town take place.
"As selectmen, with responsibility to see the big picture, I recommend we draw a line in the sand, and not recommend another conservation restriction until we have had a community conversation about this issue," Allen said.
Along with an urgent need for affordable housing, Allen said, the town has a Fire District planning a new station, a great need for a new police station and a high school in danger of losing accreditation because of the physical condition of the building.
"Property by property, we are changing the character of Williamstown, the quality of life for its citizens and the future of this community," she said.
Turbin urged a vote on the proposal saying it was a very positive, beneficial thing for the town.
"It’s a parcel of land that I think a conservation restriction was made for," he said. "It’s not land that’s been doing nothing. It’s been an agricultural resource for the community."
Ultimately, a motion by Turbin to approve the restriction failed -- Allen did not second the motion, and Sheldon abstained
Resident Robert Scerbo disagreed with Allen, calling the timing for her statement "unusual." He added that having White return to the board was an "undue burden."
In other business, selectmen discussed the possible consolidation of the upcoming town election with the special U.S. Senate primary. Town Clerk Mary Kennedy said an act signed by the governor will allow towns to hold their elections on the same day as the special primary for the Senate election to fill John Kerry’s seat. Kennedy explained the town could potentially hold its local election, currently scheduled for May 14, on the same day as the primary, scheduled for April 30. Town meeting would remain scheduled for May 21.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin said there are several benefits to combining the election. It could be convenient for voters to just come out and vote once, he said. It would also cost less to hold a combined election than two separate ones.
Fohlin stressed that no formal decision has been made, but he and Kennedy were looking for input from selectmen on whether they should proceed, as they each have logistical questions to be answered from the state.
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