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Williamstown Residents Urged to Attend Planning Sessions
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:28AM / Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Residents are being encouraged to attend at least one of two community meetings next month to provide input into the town's comprehensive plan.
 
Representatives from the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee attended the Select Board's meeting on Monday to both announce the release of the committee's "existing conditions" report and promote the open house it plans for Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Williamstown Youth Center.
 
The Thursday event will be held in two sessions, at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., and is designed to collect thoughts from the public about the many elements that go into what formerly was known as the town's master plan.
 
Those elements include housing, economic development, transportation, public facilities, environmental sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion.
 
"If you're only interested in one topic, like schools, you can stay at that table," said Stephanie Boyd, the current chair of the Planning Board, which is responsible for drafting the plan.
 
Boyd recommended that anyone planning to come to the Oct. 13 session at least familiarize themselves with the 25-page executive summary from the existing conditions report but stressed that no specialized knowledge is needed to participate in the community meetings.
 
Boyd and Community Development Director Andrew Groff, who staffs the Planning Board and the CPSC, emphasized that the Oct. 13 meetings are just the start of the committee's effort to reach out to the community.
 
"We need to listen to the community and understand its hopes, wants and desires for the next 20 years," Groff said. "We're going to look at target focused outreach on harder to reach groups: students, seniors and lower income residents."
 
The town already is receiving some feedback through the special email it established for the project: cpsteering@williamstownma.gov.
 
Don Dubendorf, who serves on the plan committee, said when the group releases the plan -- hopefully next spring -- it wants as many residents as possible to feel a sense of ownership.
 
"We are going to overwhelm people with requests and data," Dubendorf said. "We don't want people to come to the end and say, 'I had no idea.' Please, please, please engage."
 
In other business on Monday, Randy Fippinger requested the town to make a public statement in support of historically marginalized communities by flying a progress pride flag in a prominent location. Fippinger suggested a spot on Main Street at the top of Spring Street.
 
He said the idea stemmed from conversations with the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Mount Greylock Regional School and argued that such a public display would make a statement about the values of openness and inclusivity that the town has been attempting to embrace.
 
Jeff Johnson immediately signed on to the idea and said the town should go further, suggesting a communitywide celebration during Pride Month in June and swapping out the American flags the town flies up and down Main Street at Memorial Day for pride flags and then going back to American flags in time for the Fourth of July.
 
As they met inside a Town Hall which, for months, has been illuminated with blue and yellow lights in honor of Ukraine, the board members returned to a familiar discussion point: whether the town or board should take stands on political issues not directly related to town government.
 
Andy Hogeland told his colleagues that while he personally supported the pride flags and what they represent, he has concerns about how a municipal display could open the town for requests for "equal time" from groups whose agendas run contrary to the town's values.
 
"I'm very much in favor of gay pride flags," Hogeland said. "I have an institutional problem with the Board of Selectmen picking social causes to get behind when members of the town could have different priorities. … How would we say no to an NRA flag or a white supremacist flag or an anti-abortion flag or a pro-abortion flag?"
 
Town Manager Bob Menicocci agreed that there were legal issues to be considered, citing a recent Supreme Court decision that compelled Boston to fly a flag from a Christian group after it requested "equal time" with a pride flag and similar displays.
 
"Hats off to the GSA and pass along my compliments [for the idea]," Hogeland said. "This is not about them. This is about the issue of equal time."
 
Hugh Daley said he would consult the town counsel about how the town could accomplish the end sought without opening the door to allowing displays on town property from every conceivable group.
 
"We should take a second and formulate with legal counsel the path that allows us to do the thing we want to do without doing the thing we don't want to do," Daley said.
 
The board on Monday heard a report from Fippinger on the response of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity to a draft purpose statement that emphasizes the creation of a strategic plan "to make Williamstown ready for a more diverse future."
 
Fippinger said that the discussion at the DIRE Committee's Sept. 19 meeting was productive, and he and Johnson reported that a joint DIRE-Select Board working group is making progress on "wordsmithing" the purpose document.
 
Daley said he hopes to be able to have a revision available for the DIRE Committee to review in early October and for the Select Board to potentially approve on Oct. 12, when it holds a meeting moved from the second Monday of the month to avoid a conflict with Indigenous Peoples Day.
 
"Let's remind ourselves the paramount, most important thing will be the creation of the strategic plan," Daley said. "Anything that gets in the way of that strategic plan [formation] is pushing us backwards.
 
"I'm very focused on this strategic plan being focused on increasing the diversity and community building efforts within the community."
 
In reference to one of the next big community events in town, Menicocci announced that trick-or-treat hours in Williamstown will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.
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