WILLIAMSTOWN -- The second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene ravaging The Spruces Mobile Home Park arrived this week, but town officials estimate it could take another two years until replacement housing is built.
The 30-acre Lowry property on Stratton Road was eyed as a site for new housing, creating much controversy among town residents. Selectmen have recently put support behind a private project that would bring housing to land donated by Williams College on Southworth Street.
"It seems like our best hope," Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Allen said Friday. "I think the gift of the college land has helped create a project that has community wide support."
The project is a collaboration between nonprofit Higher Ground, Williams College, the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, the Women's Institute for Housing Development and the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corporation.
The Spruces was devastated on Aug. 28, 2011, when the Hoosic River rose over a 12-foot berm on the riverbank. Water rushed into the park, flooding homes and other buildings in the park.
Only 66 of the 225 units were deemed fit for habitation after the flood, and Pittsford, N.Y.-based owner Morgan Management has stated the park is not financially feasible.
Spruces Tenant Association president Cynthia Clermont-Rebello called the weeks after the flood "tormenting."
"When 150 families could not come back here, there are no words to explain how much pressure we were under," she said. "Every single one of the people that lost their home, I knew them on a first-name basis."
Town Manager Peter Fohlin outlined an ambitious plan eyed to relocate residents from the flood-prone park: Using a $6.13 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant awarded in March of this year, which would allow the town to purchase the park from Morgan, raze the existing structures and compensate residents up to $22,500.
All of this must be done quickly -- Fohlin has presented a time line listing March 28, 2016 as the date money must be spent.
Higher Ground President Bilal Ansari said many variables can affect the project timeline, including developers acquiring funding to build and support from the state.
"If all the stars are aligned, it could be as soon as two years. But if they don't line up, it could be three to five years," he said.
Clermont-Rebello said while residents were thankful for the community's assistance following the storm, many became frustrated with the affordable housing and land use discussion.
Other sites being considered for housing -- the old town garage on Water Street and the former Photech Mill on Cole Avenue -- aren't desirable to residents who wish to stay in a single-family home.
"In the past couple of months, the Selectmen have buckled under the pressure, because it was controversial," she said. "We know the facts. We know how much open space there is in Williamstown."
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