WILLIAMSTOWN -- Town Manager Peter Fohlin met with tenants at The Spruces Mobile Home Park for two hours Tuesday to ask for their collaboration on a town plan "to re-create the Spruces community" to pre-Tropical Storm Irene conditions on the Lowry property.
Fohlin told Spruces residents Tuesday that the town’s plan, centered on its application for a $6.25 million Federal Emergency Manage ment Agency (FEMA) grant, was "worth fighting [for]," and that FEMA sees it as an opportunity "to really do some good here."
"[The grant money] is there; it’s ours; we paid this money with our income taxes and we earned it the hard way," Fohlin said Tuesday. The funds are set aside by FEMA for municipalities to mitigate the chances of future disasters, a process begun by President Obama’s state of emergency declaration after Irene.
The town is now looking for a list of present Spruces owner-occupants who want to relocate to the Lowry property, a 30-acre swath off Stratton Road. There, the town seeks to erect low-cost, energy efficient Irene Cottage Homes over the next two years by using the FEMA hazard mitigation grant, for which it’s applied. Fohlin noted his belief that these federal funds are forthcoming.
Current Spruces owner-occupants will get priority, but the town also wants to recover some of the hundreds of Spruces residents driven out by Irene, and these were encouraged to register with the town.
In the meanwhile, park owner Morgan Management will be paid $600,000 from the grant and Williamstown will take over as the park’s landlord -- if the park’s present residents choose to not exercise their first-refusal rights.
"We think we’re a better park manager than [present owner] Morgan Management is," Fohlin said. "We care; we live here; we’re closer."
Plowing duties and repairs to the park’s sewer system fall on the town if this be the case, Fohlin said.
With the goal of successfully relocating the park set, a commitment will also be asked of Williamstown taxpayers, Fohlin told tenants Tuesday. The FEMA grant -- despite being "the most [Williamstown] could apply for" -- will not be enough to see the entire project through.
"Here we have 66 or more families who are an important part of our community and need to stay here," Fohlin said. "Many more than those 66 families left and want to come back. ... We have no hope if we don’t work together."
Despite preferring the town’s plan, Fohlin also outlined four alternative routes tenants can choose, if a majority rejects the town’s vision. But a majority of tenants were present Tuesday, and received Fohlin’s message well, asking many questions but in good spirits.
One, echoing sentiments that were shared during the meeting in The Spruces library, said "it took a year to get there, but we’re ready to move on."
Fohlin made no illusions that the plan would work out ideally for everyone present. He said he didn’t want to "paint a rosy picture," because "then will come a day when you tell me I deceived you."
The town’s application requests $22,500 for each owner-occupant. According to the plan, no matter what one has of that amount after disposing of their mobile home and paying other relocation costs, the remaining figure is an entry fee into the Stratton Road development.
"This is very much a communal sort of program ... it only works for one of us if it works for all of us," Fohlin said. New tenants would pay higher monthly rent.
However, those who’d rather "take the $22,500 and run," are free to do so.
First year rent payments would be equal to what tenants currently pay Morgan Management, and would be subject to small increases each year, Fohlin said. Eventually, Williamstown would seek an owner of the development -- perhaps the town’s Affordable Housing Trust or Williamstown Housing Authority.
Some town residents, represented by the Friends of Williamstown Conservation lands, object to the use of the Lowry property, in conservation since the ‘90s, for affordable housing. If the town’s proposal is accepted by FEMA, two-thirds votes from Town Meeting and the Conservation Commission will be necessary to remove the swath from conservation.
Fohlin pointed out that the land was originally purchased by the town in 1957 for the construction of a town high school, but the plan was ditched in favor of a regional agreement with Lanesborough.
To those who say housing could instead be placed at the old town garage on Water Street, inside a yet-to-be-built apartment complex, Fohlin can point to a clear majority rejection heard in the room at its suggestion Tuesday.
"A concrete tower is a warehouse, not a home," Fohlin said to the room’s consensus.
To reach Phil Demers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.