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Williamstown Affordable Housing Trust Hears Objections to Summer Street Proposal
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:17PM / Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Neighbors concerned about a proposed subdivision off Summer Street last week raised the specter of a lawsuit against the town and/or Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
"If I'm not mistaken, I think this is kind of a new thing for Williamstown, an affordable housing subdivision of this size that's plunked down in the middle, or the midst of houses in a mature neighborhood," Summer Street resident Christopher Bolton told the Affordable Housing Trust board, reading from a prepared statement, last Wednesday. "I think all of us, the Trust, Habitat, the community, have a vested interest in giving this project the best chance of success that it can have. We all remember subdivisions that have been blocked by neighbors who have become frustrated with the developers and resorted to adversarial legal processes.
"But most of us in the neighborhood would welcome this at the right scale if the Trust and Northern Berkshire Habitat would communicate with us and compromise with us and try to address some of our concerns."
Bolton and other residents of the neighborhood were invited to speak to the board of the trust, which in 2015 purchased the Summer Street lot along with a parcel at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street with the intent of developing new affordable housing on the vacant lots.
Currently, Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, which built two homes at the Cole/Maple property, is developing plans to build up to five single-family homes on the 1.75-acre Summer Street lot. Earlier this month, many of the same would-be neighbors raised objections to the scale of the proposed subdivision and its impact on the neighborhood in front of the Planning Board.
The Affordable Housing Trust board heard many of the same arguments at its meeting. It also heard from some voices not heard at the Planning Board session.
And the trustees agreed that the developer needs to engage in a three-way conversation with the abutters and the trust, which still owns the land, to develop a plan that is more acceptable to all parties.
A couple of the residents who addressed the AHT said they are concerned that Northern Berkshire Habitat is biting off more than it can chew and will not have the resources to build five houses at the site.
"This came up in our conversation, whether scaling this down might be a better use of their time," Ben Snyder told the trustees. "We're just really afraid they're going to get tied up in a complex project. Complications are going to arise … and that's not a great use of their time.
"My major concern is the new neighbors who would be invited in [to the proposed homes], whether it will be a wonderful place for them to live. We want to invite neighbors into houses where no corners were cut, where there's no flooding."
Drainage and the creation of more impervious surface on the town-owned lot — including the construction of a road to provide access to the new homes — is repeatedly cited as a major concern for residents. On Wednesday, several told the AHT board that their neighborhood off North Hoosac Road already is beset by stormwater management issues.
Another issue raised by the neighbors: increased density and the loss of green space.
Andy Parkman of Summer Street pointed to the equipment shed that NBHFH recently built on the lot with the permission of the trustees.
"The shed's only 12-by-12, but it's super, super noticeable," Parkman said. "Now there's going to be five more sheds and five more houses up there.
"It's a beautiful habitat in our neighborhood. Birds, deer, everybody's in there. Now there will be less. It will be just another space taken up by more buildings. When is enough enough? I don't know that."
Kayla Falkowski told the trustees that she was OK when she thought Habitat might build a couple of homes on the parcel but, "Five is overwhelming."
No board members from Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity addressed the trustees at Wednesday's meeting. In the past, Habitat Project Manager Keith Davis has said that if, in the planning process, the developer and its civil engineer determine that the property cannot handle five homes from a stormwater management perspective, the subdivision could be scaled back to four homes.
Last Wednesday night, Affordable Housing Trust Chair Andrew Hogeland reiterated that point and reminded the residents that the non-profit still is in the development stage. That is why Habitat brought a preliminary plan to the Planning Board for review and why it held two community conversations for abutters earlier this spring.
"I hear you loud and clear that you think five is too many [houses]," Hogeland said.
"This is not a fast track thing. [The preliminary plan] was born not very long ago, frankly. The Planning Board is going to take a couple more times to think it through. The Conservation Commission has to think it through. … For me, I'd like Habitat to get us better plans for what is the next phase of what's on the wetlands and flood control part. That isn't there in a mature way [in the preliminary plan]."
Hogeland asked attendees at the meeting to get him a list of their email addresses so he can notify them of any developments and invite them to participate in meetings with AHT representatives and the Habitat for Humanity board.
Later in the meeting, he told his colleagues on the AHT board that he would ask the NBHFH board to schedule a special meeting, outside of its regular cycle, to hold those talks. And he formed a working group of himself, Thomas Sheldon and Robin Malloy (one fewer than a quorum to comply with the Open Meeting Law) to attend a Habitat board meeting.
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