Several years ago, Williams College planned to build a performing arts center at the end of Spring Street. A new performing arts center was a great idea; the location was not. The citizens of Williamstown opposed, not the arts center, but its Spring Street location. Williams rethought its proposal and today there is a popular performing arts center on Main Street.
In 2012, the town proposes to help the residents of The Spruces by relocating them to a parcel of town-owned conservation land. Helping The Spruces residents is a good idea; relocating them to the Lowry or Burbank conservation properties is not.
Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin states Spruces residents are being offered four choices. While technically true, the town is offering Spruces residents only one choice: A "Hobson's Choice."
The choice the town offers is vacating the model Spruces Park and moving. The town's FEMA grant proposal, which requires Williamstown to make a matching $2 million contribution, only offers residents one choice of vacating and the town bulldozing.
The Army Corps of Engineers has not offered a study as to whether the Spruces could be made safer. The town has not made an effort to mitigate three streams which flow into The Spruces -- Paull Brook from the east of the park, the flowing brook which crosses Route 2 near Dion Financial and Renton's, and a third located between Luce and Frenier, located southwest of the Spruces recreation room. The latter two streams may have grown appreciably as a result of the airport tree cutting project in the Luce Road neighborhood. These three streams are major culprits in recent Spruces flooding. The town will still have to address these three streams if it converts The Spruces into a park.
Many of the homes that escaped the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene are those nearest the Hoosic River. In September, HOORWA's State Of The River Conference hosted Jim MacBroom, who offered alternatives in the areas of flood control. Watch it on Willinet's website.
The town took making the park safer off the table in secrecy for 10 months before announcing, on Nov. 13, 2012, that it had applied for the FEMA grant. Work on the grant began in February; the application is dated May 31, 2012. The town's agreement to buy The Spruces was consummated on April 2, 2012.
During this time, Spruces residents were unable to plan for their future and were not given enough time to consider co-operative ownership and fundraising for purchase of the park.
What about the town's proposal to relocate Spruces resident to the Lowry property off Stratton Road? While the property is a great scenic place to visit, and it is utilized for agriculture, hiking and as a wildlife refuge, you may not want to live there. It is a windswept hill which often might not be pleasant, especially during harsh Berkshire winters. How many times have all the town officials involved in the proposal visited Lowry? How much time visiting did they spend?
I have performed a study, at no cost to the town, of whether the largely landlocked Lowry property meets Williamstown zoning and subdivision requirements for a 50-150 home development. It does not.
Finally, creating an entrance to a subdivision at the intersection of Adams and Stratton roads would create one of the most dangerous intersections in Berkshire County.
In 1956, when the town purchased the property, most of this now densely populated area was largely unpopulated farm land.
Yes, like the merit of the original Williams Performing Arts Center proposal, the town should help The Spruces residents, but by offering them true choices and not at the expense of town-owned conservation lands.
The author, a former Willi amstown selectman, is a Stratton Road resident and a member of the Friends of Willi amstown Conservation Lands.