WILLIAMSTOWN -- Various town groups brought scope to the conversation surrounding what one official termed "the biggest thing to happen in Williamstown since the Indian massacre of 1756" at Tuesday’s Affordable Housing Committee (AFC) meeting.
There, residents of both The Spruces Mobile Home Park and Stratton Road joined members of a new group, the Friends of Williamstown Conservation, local farmers and AFC officials in a discussion of the issue at hand -- namely, the town’s proposal to demolish The Spruces and replace it with an affordable housing development elsewhere in town.
The town has chosen a 30-acre site off Stratton Road known as the Lowry property for the proposed relocation, which is contingent upon a $6.25 million grant applied for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some saw the proposal as an unfortunate pitting of affordable housing against agriculture -- as the Lowry property is conservation land, 20 acres of which is currently hayed by Kim Wells of East Mountain Farm.
"As much as there’s an affordable housing problem in Williamstown, there’s also a shortage of agricultural land in Williamstown," Wells said.
In Wells’ words, the town’s proposal intends to "swap" these 30-acres of conservation land with land from the current Spruces site, but he said it would instead equal a "net loss." The 70 acres of land suited for farming on the Spruces’ 114-acre plot, Wells said, are already being used for agriculture, and plots to be cleared of homes if the grant is received "[will] not go back into agriculture, nor should [they]."
Others hoped any structures that may be built be "tasteful and ecologically sound," and worried that, if awarded, the $6 million plus still won’t be enough to carry out the town’s plans.
Still others, these Spruces residents, simply sought clarity about the status of their current and future housing, and how they should prepare for any forthcoming changes.
AFC Chair Cathy Yamamoto added some clarity for this latter group, while acknowledging "there’s a lot we don’t know yet."
"[The goal is] to replicate not just your physical space but also the great sense of community that you all enjoyed," Yamamoto said.
She said the support group Higher Ground -- which formed after Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Spruces in 2011 -- is available to provide "logistical support" and pointed out that the town’s proposal allots $1,485,000 for relocating the owner-occupants of 66 homes re-inhabited since the storm.
Friends of Williamstown Conservation Land members in attendance said the Lowry property is used by the public for skiing, walking, hiking and environmental study, and that they’ll begin hosting tours of the property Sundays during the month of December. These tours will take off from behind building two of Stratton Hills Condominiums.
In other business, the AFC continues efforts to isolate other sites in town that may be appropriate for affordable housing -- public and private. Several Water Street locations, the old town garage, the former Photech property, the 139-acre Burbank property further down Stratton Road, Cable Mills and Williams College lands have and continue to be considered.
"We’re moving forward on [all options] all the time," committee member Cheryl Shanks said. "Everything’s on the table."
Members deemed it a "frustrating" process, with properties that look promising often turning out to be too far from public utilities or in need of millions in environmental remediation.
"We want to find the best option that can meet everybody’s needs," committee member Leigh Scott said. "Right now, Lowry is the best option."
At Tuesday’s meeting, members motioned to provisionally approve a proposal from John Ryan to compile a definitive study on the towns affordable housing needs and appropriate locations for it. Ryan’s proposal is currently held by Town Manager Peter Fohlin, and providing his bid is under the $25,000 that’s been allotted for the purpose, it will be accepted, Yamamoto said.
Friends of Williamstown Con servation Lands will hold their first public meeting today at 7 p.m. at the Orchards ballroom.
To reach Phil Demers, email