The stakes have gotten higher in the lively debate revolving around the town's affordable housing shortage, The Spruces Mobile Home Park and the Lowry and Burbank conservation properties.
The town has been awarded a $6.13 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to purchase and demolish the Irene-ravaged and flood-prone Spruces, followed by relocating interested current and former residents to a new affordable housing development, with Stratton Road's Lowry property eyed as the location.
Sounds like an exceptional windfall with a bold plan to help alleviate a problem that has been staring the town in the face.
But wait, an April 24 special town meeting -- spurred by a petition brought by residents located near the Lowry land -- will now ask voters to decide if both Lowry and Burbank should be put in permanent conservation or if 10.5 acres of Lowry should be given over for affordable housing while 20 acres are put into conservation in perpetuity.
In this sometimes heated conversation, we think it's time to accept that affordable housing on the Lowry parcel is the right move to make for a town heavy on open space and light on shelter for those in need of economical housing solutions.
In fact, the warrant article allowing for 20 of Lowry's acres to be put into permanent protection seems an over generous compromise that opponents should be jumping at the chance to accept. However, we would go so far as to wonder if those 20 remaining acres could be better used as a solution for housing needs coming down the road.
As we see it, there appears to be three groups of opponents to housing on the Lowry property: Those genuinely concerned with preserving open space, those Spruces residents who truly do not want to leave their homes and believe they are in no real danger despite the lessons of Irene, and certain citizens living near Lowry who seem -- intentionally or not and for whatever reason -- to just not want more neighbors than they already have.
The only argument we hold sacrosanct is that of Spruces residents who don't want to leave their homes. There is true value to their sentiment, and we wouldn't dream of telling them they're wrong to feel an inviolable attachment to homes they have put sweat and real equity into over the years.
However, it is the arguments of those who claim the Lowry property is an idyllic wildland crucial to maintaining the rural and bucolic nature of Williamstown with which we cannot see eye-to-eye.
It is not majestic and pristine. It is a handful of hayfields punctuated by brush and unremarkable treelines, where from one field, the most striking view is of condominium roofs. This town has a vast wealth of open-air territory that far surpasses this, a wealth that will not be greatly impacted by the loss of this tract. The only thing exceptional about Lowry is that it currently hosts agricultural use, and that loss should be replaced.
Now do not misunderstand us: We are not lovers of concrete over trees and open space who would do away with preservation entirely.
We have supported conservation and value greatly the rural character of Northern Berkshire. But there comes a time when a community's need for homes outweighs a community's desire for a pristine view. For Lowry, that time has come.