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Lack of Assisted Living Demand Has Sweetwood Eyeing Apartments
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:57AM / Tuesday, March 21, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The owner of Sweetwood assisted living facility on Cold Spring Road is looking to change its zoning to allow its vacant units to be leased as apartments. 
Sweetwood hopes to ask town meeting to rezone its property from Rural Residence to the Southern Gateway District, which currently runs along Route 7 with a southern terminus at the intersection with the Taconic Trail (Route 2). And it wants the town to change the use table to allow by right the conversion of existing buildings to multi-family housing; currently, that is allowable by special permit in the Southern Gateway District, but it is a by-right use in other business zones. 
The owner is hosting a community meeting in the Sweetwood auditorium on Monday, April 3, at 6:30 p.m.
Attorney Karla Chaffee of Boston's Nixon Peabody LLP told the Select Board last week that the owners want to repurpose some of its existing assisted living units to use as all-purpose rental units and are asking for a pair of zoning bylaw changes to allow modifications in the operation of their business. 
"We have an existing building that's developed very much like a standard multifamily building with a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments," Chaffee said. "We're operating at about half capacity and are really looking for options where we can continue to invest in the property, continue to run the assisted living business on the property but exploring some options with opening up some underutilized facilities for housing that is available to the wider public." 
The Select Board referred the request to the Planning Board. Boyd, the current chair of the Planning Board, said she thought warrant article language could be ready to be vetted at the board's statutory public hearing along with the rest of the planners' bylaw amendments and stay on track for inclusion on the warrant for May's annual town meeting.
The facility, once paired with the now defunct Sweet Brook nursing home, was purchased for $3.8 million 2010 by DES Senior Care Holdings LLC. The 20-acre property has 70 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units in a three-story structure as well as common areas and enclosed parking. It was built in 1987 and added onto a decade later. 
Sweetwood says the RR2 and RR3 zoning doesn't permit it to operate outside the definition of "assisted living." 
"To support Sweetwood's ongoing operation and care for its current residents, Sweetwood seeks the flexibility to rent its existing units to any individual, not just those who may require assistance with their daily living," the company states in a legal notice posted on iBerkshires. 
This rezoning would be consistent, it states, with existing zoning along the Route 7 corridor. The proposed text amendment would allow for conversion of an existing building for multifamily use by right but require a special permit for new construction. 
"Given the crucial need for affordable and market rate rental housing in the region, this requested amendment will serve as at least one step towards alleviating pressure in the local housing market," states the legal notice. "Utilization of existing buildings and structures in business zones will help achieve this goal without significant impact to Town resources and infrastructure." 
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