WILLIAMSTOWN -- A course of action for the relocation of displaced residents of The Spruces was brought before the Community Preservation Committee on Tuesday night, with the initial step being a request for funds from the committee for studies of town sites for potential development.
Catherine Yamamoto, chairwoman of the Affordable Housing Committee, and Robin Lenz, coordinator of the Interfaith Emergency Response Team, told the committee that two to three sites would be necessary to replace the 175 housing units lost to flooding during Tropical Storm Irene, and estimated the cost of hiring a consultant to do the surveying at $20,000 to $25,000.
Most of those displaced from the Spruces are over 75, and living on fixed incomes. Of these, 31 are currently living in motels and 60 are staying with family members, according to Lenz.
A nonprofit group called Higher Ground has formed to help alleviate the immediate needs of the former tenants, and now has 12 members, including Lenz.
"This will be a long, long project," said committee member Chris Winters. "One that will make the community take a hard look at its priorities."
"The moral priority is inarguable," added Daniel Gendron of the town's Finance Committee.
After surveying is completed with potential 2011 appropriations, Yamamoto and Lenz plan to put together a full-scale project for a 2012 application to the committee. The cost of this project will depend on the number of units to be built and the viability of the sites.
Applications for money from the Community Preservation Fund will be due by Dec. 14.
About $559,000 will be awarded by the committee for local projects in the categories of recreation, open space, historic preservation and affordable housing this year.
Also brought before the committee Tuesday was the proposal to purchase Sand Springs from its current owners and reopen it to the public. The proposal includes a measure to open a "world class learn-to-swim academy" to be overseen by a former Olympic swimmer during the summer months.
Under the proposal, the academy will be open to all Williamstown youth, but others wanting to use Sand Springs will be charged membership fees.
Some committee members voiced concern about the yearly cost of such an operation, but presenter Janette Dudley said that with revenue from memberships and food sales, Sand Springs would be a self-sustaining entity. Also under consideration are the possibilities of a winter skating rink and renting out the top floor of the building at the Springs. Dudley says a goal of the project is to raise enough money for an endowment.
The Sand Springs project will be filed under the historic and recreational categories, and Dudley hopes to include a projected price with the application in December.
A discussion among committee members followed on the role of the CPA moving forward in town affairs. Some members agreed that the Community Preservation Act is a regressive tax, but also said the committee had had a positive effect on the town during its nine years of existence.
Current CPA mechanisms are open-ended, and ballots for the May 2012 annual town elections will include questions about the allotment of CPA funds.
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