WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Stratton Hills Association Trust has hired a lawyer to determine the conservation status of the Lowry property.
The Boston-based law firm Kopelman and Paige, which serves as legal counsel to the town, has indicated the 30-acre property on Stratton Road, a parcel eyed for affordable housing, is not given conservation status under Article 97. Trust President Sarah Thurston said the association sought legal counsel from Pittsfield-based Cain Hibbard and Myers to receive a second opinion.
"We felt strongly citizens should be aware town counsel's opinion isn't the only opinion," Thurston said.
An article for the special town meeting on Wednesday, April 24 asks voters to remove 10.5 acres of the Lowry property for affordable housing purposes. Initially acquired in 1955 for the building of a new high school, the property went unused with the building of Mount Greylock Regional High School on Cold Spring Road.
In May 1987, Town Meeting transferred the property, along with two other properties, to the care of the Conservation Commission.
Kopelman and Paige addressed the town in two letters, the first dated Nov. 20, 2012 and the second dated March 20, 2013. On both occasions, counsel wrote that a vote of the legislature wasn't required to remove Lowry from the Conservation Commission's care.
"The protections of Article 97 only apply to land that was originally acquired for an Article 97 purpose," the letter states. Lowry property is not protected under Article 97, it stated, because it was initially acquired in 1955 for the building of a new high school.
Town counsel also wrote that to be removed from conservation, the Conservation Commission must vote it no longer needs the property, and Town Meeting must vote to transfer the property to the Board of Selectmen for affordable housing purposes.
A letter dated April 3 from Cain Hibbard and Myers was sent to the state Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Board of Selectmen, and the Conservation Commission, Thurston said. The letters state that despite the initial purpose, 30 acre Lowry property and the 139 acre Burbank property is protected under Article 97.
"The intent of town meeting in 1987 was very clearly to place a restriction on the parcels for conservation and open space preservation purposes," the letter states.
Trust member Bob Scerbo said members believed it was important to seek second opinion, as the best access to Lowry is a 50 foot right of way that extends across land owned by the trust.
"We want to be sure that whatever vote or action is taken, is considered legal," Scerbo said.
"[Voters will] come out, listen, take all that information in, and ultimately make a decision with where it will go," he added.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin, who in previous meetings has stood by town counsel's opinion, declined to comment.
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