WILLIAMSTOWN -- A panel discussing affordable housing, land use and residents of the Spruces mobile home park who where displaced from Tropical Storm Irene brought residents out in droves on Wednesday night.
Discussion among the members of various boards and town residents showed just how many opinions surround the issue.
"It will be impossible to please everyone, but we'll have to see what we can do," Stratton Road resident Anne Skinner said after several people had addressed the panel.
The event was organized by community television station WilliNet in anticipation of a special town meeting on Wednesday, April 24, where voters will be asked to decide the fate of two properties in conservation being considered for affordable housing.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin first gave an overview of the Hazard Mitigation Grant awarded to the town on March 27, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
If selectmen accept the $6.1 million grant it would be used to compensate park owner Morgan Management and relocate the current Spruces residents, Fohlin said. The town would assume ownership of the park and be obligated to remove the mobile home units and parts of the infrastructure.
"FEMA is not going to come back to compensate people for their properties a second time," Fohlin explained.
The remaining balance of about $3 million will be used to convey the property to a developer for the construction of affordable housing in Williamstown, Fohlin said.
Agricultural Commission Chairwoman Beth Phelps stated that her board was in favor of preserving open space for many reasons, including the shrinking average farm size in the county. Lowry provides good soil for hay, which Kim Wells of East Mountain Farm uses for his cattle.
She added The Agricultural Commission believes the town should build housing on sites such as Photech on Cole Avenue, and believes building on agricultural lands should be considered a last resort.
Board of Selectmen Chairman David Rempell didn't agree.
"I would hate to have us remove any of (the possible sites) from the table before we find out what it is they might be able to do or might not be able to do," he explained.
Rempell said questions remain about how viable some sites were for development. Part of Photech lies in a floodplain, he said, and there is still some contamination on the property.
"We need more information," he said.
Tremus Thompson, a resident who lived in the Spruces before Tropical Storm Irene, made an emotional case to the panel and audience.
"I fell in love with Williamstown, and I don't want to leave it," Thompson said.
Thompson added that if the 140 acres of the Spruces was reused, it could provide agricultural land, recreational space and additional income to the town.
"That's not taking away from you. That's giving to you," she said.
The discussion will be re-aired on Channel 16 and 17 in Williamstown. The full video is also posted on WilliNet's website. To watch the full video, visit www.willinet.org.
To reach Edward Damon, email