WILLIAMSTOWN -- The federal government has chosen The Spruces Mobile Home Park relocation project for a $6.13 million Hazard Mitigation Grant, the town announced Wednesday.
The funds are intended first to purchase the Spruces -- 65 mobile homes and two common buildings located off Route 2 -- from owner Morgan Management, then later demolish the structures after replacement housing has been constructed elsewhere in town, according to the town's application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, submitted in November.
The development is located on a floodplain and saw its worst damage to date during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, when more than 150 of its units were rendered uninhabitable. Apart from the tenants who moved back, the rest were scattered. Some moved in with nearby relatives; others moved into town, elsewhere in the state, or out of Massachusetts entirely.
According to the town's application, $600,000 from the grant is for the purchase of the park; $3 million will be used to construct replacement housing at another site; $1,485,000 is to cover resident relocation costs; and $1.2 million would achieve the demolition of the park and cleanup of the site, which will be designated as open space.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin said tenants learning the news Tuesday were "pleased at the prospect of a safe future."
"The tenants were smiling [Tuesday] afternoon," Fohlin said. "We went down there at three o'clock ... [They] needed to be the first to hear."
Added Fohlin, "The next step is to receive the grant agreement from MEMA [Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, administrator of the funds], which the Board of Selectmen will sign at one of their regular meetings."
Catherine Yamamoto, chairwoman of the town's Affordable Housing Committee, welcomed the development in an interview Wednesday.
"It's a wonderful thing for the residents of The Spruces and for the town of Williamstown," she said. "It's a great opportunity to move people out of harm's way ... and create safe, suitable and affordable housing."
Spruces tenants have rights of first refusal to prevent the sale of the park, but this would require a 51 percent majority vote.
If the purchase of the park from Morgan, a company based in Rochester, N.Y., goes through, the town stands to become The Spruces' new landlord.
The particulars are being ironed out with Morgan and the Attorney General's office, Fohlin said, a process he hopes is resolved "sooner rather than later."
"Certainly Morgan wants to be clear of the property and we want to start taking care of the residents as soon as possible," he said.
Where to locate the replacement housing is an issue still being resolved.
At an April 24 special town meeting, voters will be asked to determine whether the Lowry property, a 30.5-acre swath on Stratton Road eyed for affordable housing, is fit for the purpose or should be placed, along with the 139-acre Burbank property, also on Stratton Road, in permanent conservation.
The warrant that would allow for development at Lowry appropriates 10.5 acres for affordable housing and keeps the remaining 20 in conservation.
Fohlin points out that the town originally acquired Lowry in order to construct a high school there, and it is not protected under Article 97 of the state constitution, a conservation article.
Others in the town disagree, and feel alternative affordable housing solutions should be considered.
"We're confidently coming up with different thoughts and ideas," said Kenneth Swiatek, who founded the group Friends of Williamstown Conservation Land shortly after the grant application was announced.
Swiatek said it remains unclear how far along the funds will take the town toward completing a development at Lowry.
"There's many questions about how much money would be spent and what the building plan would be," Swiatek said. "We just want to get accurate information out there."
For affordable housing solutions, Swiatek advocated downtown infill, separate lands and independent individual solutions. However, he added his belief that "the town is being divided unnecessarily" over the issue and his hopes that the April 24 meeting results in progressive discussion.
To reach Phil Demers, email