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Williamstown Transfers Former Photech Property, Housing Project to Start 'Within One Week'
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:11AM / Thursday, June 11, 2020
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The town-owned property at 330 Cole Ave. will be transferred to Berkshire Housing Development Corp. for redevelopment as affordable housing.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — More than six years after the Select Board narrowly awarded development rights for the former Photech mill property to Berkshire Housing Development Corp., the town has formally transferred the property to the Pittsfield nonprofit.
 
At Monday's Select Board meeting, an enthusiastic board voted 5-0 to execute a deed for the property at 330 Cole Ave., to the Pittsfield-based non-profit, which plans to create 41 units of subsidized housing, utilizing the existing four-story structure and building new town houses.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch told the board that the project is "funded and ready to begin" and that work at the site could commence soon.
 
BHCD President Elton Ogden confirmed that on Wednesday morning.
 
"We expect to close within one week and construction will start immediately thereafter," Ogden wrote in an email responding to a request for comment. "It's been a very long and challenging process, so it will be great to begin work on the new buildings."
 
Select Board Chair Jane Patton was excited the town was able to seal the deal. 
 
"This is big news," Patton said on Monday. "This has been going on for a while. It's nice to get this piece moving."
 
Patton is the lone member of the Select Board remaining from that 2014 vote and had actually voted in the minority because she favored going with the recommendation of the town's Affordable Housing Committee, which shepherded the request for proposal that was answered by BHDC and Boston's Arch Street Development.
 
Arch Street submitted a more ambitious proposal that called for 60 units of housing on Cole Avenue and an additional 25 on the former town garage site on Water Street — answering both parts of the RFP developed by the housing committee.
 
Berkshire Housing proposed development only on the Photech site; at that time, it was contemplating 46 units of income-restricted housing. That plan has since been refined.
 
The Affordable Housing Committee reviewed both applications and recommended the Arch Street plan to the Select Board because it maximized the use of two town assets. Three members of the AHC resigned shortly after the Select Board went against its recommendation.
 
Berkshire Housing has spent the last six years operating on an option from the town to develop the site and applying for funding through the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and other sources. In December 2016, Berkshire Housing received the blessing of the town's Conservation Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, essentially making the project "shovel ready."
 
In May 2019, annual town meeting approved a grant of $200,000 of the town's Community Preservation Act funds toward the projected $16 million project on land being donated by the town.
 
Last December, Ogden was at town hall to ask for what he then hoped would be the last extension of BHDC's option on the land.
 
Hoch Monday assured the Select Board that the deed documents had been reviewed by town counsel and they included easements for the planned bicycle/pedestrian path that will run from the near the junction of North Street (Route 7) and Syndicate Road east to the Spruces Community Park.
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