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WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Conservation Commission has recommended that voters take no action on any of the warrant articles regarding land use and affordable housing at tonight's special town meeting.
During a special meeting of the commission Tuesday night, members were in agreement that more time is needed to discuss the issue of land use.
"My reading is that there are some real procedural flaws in the way that these articles have been constructed," Chairman Henry "Hank" Art said. "And none of these articles were discussed with the Conservation Commission."
The articles at special town meeting involve two town-owned properties under the control of the Commission: the 30-acre Lowry property and the 140-acre Burbank property, both on Stratton Road. Lowry has long been eyed as a space to build affordable housing units.
Members expressed concern about the timing of an article at the first special town meeting, scheduled for 7:25 p.m. tonight, asking voters to adopt a state statute that would allow all land transfers for affordable housing be done by majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote.
"I have a problem with the wording of this," member Richard Schlesinger said. The article doesn't say anything about following a vote of the Commission, he said, which is necessary for the land to be transferred.
A motion that voters take no action for the article passed 6-0-1, with member Philip McKnight abstaining.
The final vote of article two, which asks the town to transfer 10 acres of the 30-acre Lowry property to the Selectmen, was 5-0-2, with members Sarah Gardner and McKnight abstaining.
The Commission's final vote on article three, which asks voters to permanently place the Lowry and the Burbank properties into conservation, was 4-0-3, with members McKnight, Sarah Gardner, and Thomas Ennis abstaining. The article appears by citizen's petition from Stratton Road residents.
In regard to these two articles, Art highlighted a procedural issue: the commission abides by the land transfer process outlined in the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs' Conservation Restriction Handbook, he said. The handbook dictates that a request must come to the commission from the town before land is transferred out of conservation. The commission must then analyze a site to see if it should go into permanent conservation, he said.
"We haven't gone through the procedure of that kind of analysis," Art said. "To have it forced upon us without the appropriate study and deliberation, and opening it up for discussion ... is not the way to proceed."
McKnight added the petitioners' article, like the article before it, was invalid as it cannot force the commission to take any action.
The commission did not make a recommendation on an article asking voters to place a conservation restriction on 39 acres off Oblong Road. On Monday, landowner Eric White told Selectmen at he intends to ask the special town meeting moderator to withdraw the article.