|Williamstown Community Preservation Committee Faces $500K in Requests|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
03:59AM / Monday, January 07, 2019
|The 1753 House on Field Park, the Route 2/Route 7 rotary in Williamstown, is the subject of an application for Community Preservation Act funds.|
The roof on the 1753 House in is in need of replacement.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Last winter, some members of the Community Preservation Committee lamented that the town had received fewer than usual requests for funding from Community Preservation Act funds.
Be careful what you wish for.
When the CPC holds its first meeting of 2019 on Jan. 23, it will be looking at requests totaling nearly half a million dollars.
Nine applications, totaling $501,096
$466,296, were received by Friday's deadline for the fiscal 2020 funding cycle.
Requests include: $200,000 from Berkshire Housing Development Corp.; $80,000 from the Friends of Linear Park; $75,000 from the town's Affordable Housing Trust; $70,000 from Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity; $34,800 from Sand Springs Recreational Center; $20,176 from the Hoosic River Watershed Association; $9,815 from the 1753 House Committee; $7,325 from the Town of Williamstown; $3,980 from the Williamstown Historical Museum.
The money is there. The question is whether the committee will want to allocate it.
In recent years, members of this same panel have argued against granting all of the money in the CPC budget, preferring instead to accumulate a balance that would allow the town to make a major impact when one big project comes along.
At its Oct. 23, 2018, meeting, Town Manager Jason Hoch -- a voting member of the CPC -- reported that the town expects to have about $515,000 available for FY20 grants. That money comes from the unappropriated balance carried over from last year ($342,416) and the anticipated town and state revenue plus interest ($297,572), less the $125,000 the town already has committed to the restoration of Cable Mills.
The committee in October discussed options for building up a reserve of CPA funds, including, "[using] the town revenue portion as a guideline," for an informal cap on expenditures in any given year, according to the minutes of the Oct. 23 meeting.
Town revenue from the CPA comes from a 2 percent surcharge on property taxes (with the first $100,000 of valuation exempted) that the town adopted in 2002. A formula that used the estimated FY20 town revenue ($259,000) less the Cable Mills commitment would leave about $134,000 -- or about 29 percent of the combined requests.
The CPC is charged with vetting requests and recommending allocations to the voters, who ultimately decide whether to award the funds at May's annual meeting.
In the past, the CPC has taken a two-step process to reviewing applications. First, it has decided whether each application is appropriate under the act and falls into at least one of the CPA's stated objectives: community housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation.
Any applications that pass that first test (most have, historically) move on to be considered for either full or partial funding.
Last year, the town received just one request for funding, a $20,000 ask from the Affordable Housing Trust; a separate application from the town's Conservation Commission for $19,000 was withdrawn during the winter.
The AHT is back before the committee this winter, seeking $75,000 to support the trust's various initiatives to increase the availability of affordable -- or subsidized -- housing in town. The trust was established by town meeting in 2012 as a mechanism to disperse tax money for worthy projects without having to wait for annual appropriations at town meeting.
One of the trust's most successful initiatives, the Richard DeMayo Mortgage Assistance Program, has, to date, allotted $220,500 in CPA funds that have allowed 15 first-time, income-qualified home buyers to move into town. The Trust also purchase two properties in town and has partnered with Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity on a plan to build two single-family homes on one of the properties, at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street.
That project led to one of the other eight requests the CPC faces this month, listed here in descending order of magnitude:
Berkshire Housing Development Corp.: The Pittsfield-based non-profit is seeking $200,000 toward its $16 million development of affordable housing at the former Photech property at 330 Cole Ave. The application might qualify as both community housing and historic preservation (the preservation of the historic mill), but BHDC checked just the community housing box on its application. The town already has significant "skin in the game," having spent money in the past on testing and remediation of contamination at the site and agreeing to contribute the town-owned property toward the project; Williamstown acquired the 5-acre site through a tax proceeding. The $200,000 ask represents less than 1 percent of the total project, which ultimately will be funded largely by low-income housing tax credits and other funds dispersed by the commonwealth.
Friends of Linear Park: The local ad hoc group was created last fall to address deficiencies at the section of the park off Water Street. An inspection of the playground equipment led to its removal from the town park, "leaving a large void for families," according to the group's application. The application for $80,000 falls under the recreation category of the act, and the money would be used to update the existing park with new playground and add an open air pavilion. The $80,000 represents 40 percent of a $200,000 project budget.
Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity: As stated, the group hopes to build two single-family homes at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street on town-owned land. The homes will be owner-occupied by applicants who invest "sweat equity" as part of their contribution and deed-restricted to keep them affordable in perpetuity. The non-profit is seeking $70,000, which is 25 percent of its $280,000 project budget. As with the 330 Cole Ave. project, the town already has other financial commitments to the project, not the least of which is the value of the land.
Sand Springs Recreation Center: The non-profit that owns the pool and recreation center off Bridges Road received CPA grants from the town in 2015 and 2017, though $17,205 of a $25,000 grant awarded in 2017 has not been spent because costs exceeded available funds. This year, the center seeks $34,800 to complete the project it tried to fund two years ago: a lift that will make its second-story community room accessible, open to the public and -- the non-profit hopes -- a potential source of revenue. Applying under the act's recreation provision, Sand Springs is looking for an FY20 grant that would represent 60 percent of the project's total cost.
Hoosic River Watershed Association: Another request to the CPC related to the town's Linear Park. Under the act's open space and recreation provisions, HooRWA is seeking $20,176 to construct a Linear Park Link Trail to connect the southern and northern sections of the two town parks that share the same name. The half-mile trail would follow the Green River from the Water Street section of the park to the Walley Bridge on Route 2 (Main Street). Along Route 2, park users can walk to the entrance of Linear Park's northern section. The $20,176 is 80 percent of the project's cost.
1753 House Committee: In 1953, a group of volunteers erected the replica home at Field Park, across from the Williams Inn, using methods and materials that would have been used in the 18th century, as part of the town's bicentennial celebration. The committee in charge of the house is seeking $9,815, 100 percent of the cost of replacing the roof on the structure, which needs repair to prevent damage to the interior.
Town of Williamstown: The town manager is asking the committee to recommend granting $7,325 to preserve a piece of town history, a 1920 rendering of the proposed Memorial Community Building that never was built. Said building would have housed a town library and women's activities such as Goodwill and other associations, according to the 1920 Town Report. The rendering was discovered in the basement of Town Hall two years ago. Hoch is seeking $7,325, which would cover 100 percent of the restoration by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center at the Clark Art Institute.
Williamstown Historical Museum: The committee's two smallest requests for FY20 both fall under the historic preservation provision of the CPA. The WHM is seeking $3,980, or 80 percent of the projected cost to preserve the town's 18th-century ledger of livestock markings. "Future projects related to this ledger could include an in-depth accounting of the number of livestock within the town and, if used with other existing records (however scarce), reveal how the ownership of livestock and land was distributed throughout the town," the application reads in part." The WACC is also consulting on this project, which would include repairing the artifact and creating a high-quality facsimile that can be used by researchers.
An earlier version of this story and headline inadvertently left one of the requests out of the total being sought by the nine applicants.