WILLIAMSTOWN -- During what many residents called the largest town meeting they've seen in years, voters overwhelmingly decided to table the four land use-related articles presented at Wednesday's special meetings.
An article asking voters to place conservation restrictions on property and another requesting the transfer of land for affordable housing were tabled in landslide votes. Various town officials have pushed for more study on the actions, and many of the 727 locals who attended voiced their desire for more information before a final vote.
One of the four articles was the result of a citizen's petition, which asked voters to place a permanent conservation restriction on the 30-acre Lowry and the 140-acre Burbank properties on Stratton Road.
Another article asked voters to transfer 10 acres of Lowry to selectmen for the construction of affordable housing.
Officials have looked to Lowry as a possible site to recreate a community similar to The Spruces Mobile Home Park, which is in a 100-year floodplain and was ravaged by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
The town is planning to use a $6.13 million Hazard Mitigation Grant from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to relocate Spruces residents and construct new affordable housing in town.
"We did the right thing in deciding to proceed in a prudent fashion," Affordable Housing Trust Chairman Stan Parese said following the meeting. "It's a complicated, difficult question, and the idea of trying to be careful in our approach is a good thing in itself."
Moderator Mark Gold opened the meeting by explaining the Board of Selectmen, Affordable Housing Trust, and Conservation Commission had all recommended the town take no action on any of the articles. Given that, he said he would entertain a motion by Board of Selectmen Chairman David Rempell to bundle three articles at the 7:30 p.m. meeting together to be tabled at once, he said.
A 7:25 p.m. meeting contained a single article, asking voters to approve land transfers for affordable housing be done by a majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote.
"To act now on these warrant articles I think would be irrational and detrimental to the future of our community," Rempell told the attendees. "I would strongly urge us to take a deep breath, allow the town to assess the advantage and disadvantages of different alternatives, and then proceed with informative and hopefully less divisive discussions."
Conservation Commission Chairman Henry Art said his committee is "encouraged" by the opportunity to stand down and to complete further study of the sites, which wouldn't be possible if the town voted on articles.
Residents voiced their opinion on whether voters should take any action during the meeting.
Longview Terrace resident Bob Scerbo reminded attendees the meeting was the result of a citizen's petition, signed by 305 residents, to place Lowry and Burbank into conservation permanently.
"They signed a petition in order to have a special town meeting to come debate, listen and learn," Scerbo said, urging residents to cast a vote.
Stratton Road resident Mary Lou Briggs agreed with officials' urging that more time is needed.
"There's no question we need [affordable housing], but we don't have the facts," she said. "Much work still needs to be done to evaluate all the possible options."
Stratton Road resident Sarah Thurston questioned what would happen at the Annual Town Meeting on May 21, as the two articles relating to Lowry and Burbank will also appear on the warrant.
"We considered that option," Parese said. The trust plans on recommending the town table the warrant articles at the Annual Town Meeting, too, he said.
"There's no attempt here at all to procedurally to favor one outcome versus another," he added.
The final vote on a motion to table three articles for the 7:30 meeting was 555 for and 172 against.
The final vote on a motion to table the single article for the 7:25 meeting was 463 for and 38 against.
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