The March 20 letter to the editor from the Williamstown League of Women Voters President Anne R. Skinner falls short of providing voters a clear explanation of facts on the use of town-owned conservation land for subsidized affordable housing.
Ms. Skinner states that over the last 10 years "we have put 300 acres of land in conservation." This statement is misleading. Williamstown has not done this. Private landowners have placed their properties under conservation.
To continue the mantra that other non-conservation town-owned sites would not meet our long-range goals for affordable housing is equally misleading. Are you suggesting that by not providing housing on these other town-owned sites we are getting closer to achieving our goal? One would think for every unit of affordable housing you create, there is one less needed to meet the state’s arbitrary figure of 10 percent affordable housing per community.
Her letter states homes on other non-conservation town-owned properties will not be a community like The Spruces. What will these houses look like? We are told these affordable single-family homes will be small "Irene Cottages." This term was coined by an organization named Upper Valley Strong. With a grant, UV Strong developed a design brochure of these cottages. UV Strong’s design team coordinator last week acknowledged that to date, no "Irene Cottages" have been built. Not one, let alone the 41 proposed for this project.
The development of this conservation land under the umbrella of affordable housing allows for the complete disregard to our current zoning, subdivision and planning regulations in Williamstown under Massachusetts Chapter 40b. We would be creating a 41-unit development that is non-conforming to many of the minimum development standards and requirements established by our town. In essence, we would be spot zoning. This does not even address the financial cost to the town. No one can tell you what it will cost to develop the infrastructure or the construction of these "Irene Cottages."
We are told what a wonderful place the 115-acre former Spruces would be for community and agricultural use, when in fact for decades that land has been used for agriculture and feed production and by removing the existing mobile home park, this would create no net gain of agricultural productivity to the community. Conversely, removing the Lowry property from conservation and agriculture will result in a net loss of this prime natural resource.
I don’t doubt there are current residents of The Spruces who have signed on to this plan. But what have the residents of the Spruces been promised? What will it cost them, and what guarantees are there that the promise of low-cost early entry will not result in increases after the fact to cover the many costs that are yet unknown?
Yes, the voters of Williamstown will come together at a special town meeting, not to oppose, but rather to support the long-standing commitment this town made to its residents by citizen vote to preserve for generations these lands under conservation.
Robert J. Scerbo