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Williamstown's Social Workers Seek Interviewees for Research Project
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:31AM / Thursday, March 03, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Organizers of the town’s Community Assessment and Research project still are making appointments to interview residents with a particular eye toward reaching diverse socio-economic groups.
 
Social worker Abigail Reifsnyder met with the Select Board on Monday to give an update on the project, known as Williamstown CARES, which is attempting to study, “public safety needs now, how residents feel about their own safety, and how we can create a greater sense of well-being and belonging.”
 
Reifsnyder said that as of Monday, researchers had conducted interviews with about 150 of the 200 or so people who have signed up.
 
“I can say as someone who has done a lot of the interviews that folks I’ve interviewed have been all over the political spectrum, yet there are common themes that are emerging,” Reifsnyder said. “That’s just my impression based on the interviews I’ve done. The real recommendations will come at a later date.
 
“There’s nobody we don’t want to hear from. Nobody’s thoughts or opinions are not worthy. They’re all worthy. I encourage folks to go to the website and sign up. It’s really easy. And then one of us will give you a call.”
 
Reifsnyder said she has tried going door to door in neighborhoods where she hoped to reach people who have not signed up for the social research project, and the direct outreach has not yielded the results for which she hoped.
 
“Folks are very nice,” she said. “Nobody was running to the door to shoo me away. And I’m always appreciative of people being kind because I feel that people’s homes are their homes, and they don’t want to be bothered. I don’t like doing that, but I did do it anyway.
 
“Unfortunately, it didn’t end in people actually signing up.”
 
One of the best marketing tools for the Williamstown CARES project has been word-of-mouth, Reifsnyder said, and she encouraged anyone who has done the interview to reach out to friends and neighbors to encourage their participation.
 
On that point, two members of the Select Board, Andy Hogeland and Hugh Daley, who are among the 150 residents surveyed so far, used Monday’s meeting to speak favorably of the experience.
 
“I was interviewed recently,” Hogeland said. “I found it a nice, refreshing way to think about things and stir up thoughts in a different way than I have before. I do recommend this as an experience.
 
“It didn’t take long, but it was a good way to do the thought process. … People should do it. Even if you don’t look like me, I think you should definitely do it. It’s sort of self-educational, if nothing else.”
 
Reifsnyder said the Williamstown CARES report with analysis of the anonymous survey responses and recommendations for the town should be ready at the end of the summer.
 
In other business on Monday, the Select Board received a report from the Planning Board of the warrant articles the latter panel currently is considering sending to May’s annual town meeting. The Select Board went through the formality of referring the articles back to the planners for a public hearing, which the Planning Board has scheduled for March 22.
 
Planning Board Chair Chris Winters used the platform on Monday to once again explain the motivation for the changes to the town’s zoning bylaw that his board has advanced.
 
“In its most malevolent form, zoning can take on an exclusionary, gate-keeping aspect that actually keeps people out of the community,” Winters said. “There’s a lot of research that shows that exclusionary zoning is fairly common across America and in towns like ours. And one of the classic ways exclusionary zoning is put into practice is single-family, large-lot zoning. What that does is it creates an economic barrier for who can get into town.
 
“So, if you say, ‘In order to live here, our zoning prefers single-family homes on large lots,’ all of a sudden, the gate is a little higher. Because it’s more expensive to build a single-family home than, for example, a duplex or a triple. And large lots – big setbacks, large area requirements – drive up cost because land has value itself.”
 
To address the issue in the town’s code, the Planning Board is proposing bylaw changes that will make it easier to build multi-family residence or convert large one-family homes to multi-family homes and, in separate articles, reductions to the land dimensions needed to build homes in all the town’s residential districts.
 
Planning Board member Stephanie Boyd joined Monday’s meeting during the public comment period to reiterate her support of reducing dimensional requirements in the town’s General Residence district and her concerns about taking a similar step in the Rural Residence 2 district, where, she said, large-lot zoning helps preserve open space.
 
The Select Board took no position on any of the zoning bylaw amendments under consideration, but it will have a chance to take advisory votes on all of them before the annual town meeting warrant goes to press this spring.
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