Thursday March 21, 2013

The League of Women Voters supports access to affordable and appropriate homes for all our citizens, including low- and moderate-income families, as part of meeting basic human needs.

According to state standards and our own town Master Plan, during the past 10 years the town was to take advantage of various public subsidies and town resources to create 150 additional units of affordable housing. We have built eight, the apartments created by the renovation of the former St. Raphael’s Church and Rectory on Cole Avenue. In this same 10 years we have put 300 acres of land in conservation.

Now, in addition to this long-standing, documented need for more affordable homes, we have 150 of our fellow citizens, many elderly, who find themselves forced to relocate due to the destruction of the Spruces in Hurricane Irene. The need for homes for these families is immediate, and the town has acted swiftly to try to meet that need. Recognizing that the best way to contain costs is to build on town land, the Affordable Housing Committee has been studying the options. They have identified the Lowry property off Stratton Road as most suitable.

Other town properties include the sites of the former Photech plant and the Town Garage on Water Street. While both of these properties lend themselves to multi-unit construction, neither can provide homes like the ones in the Spruces. Further, even if both of these sites were developed, we would not have enough units to meet both our long-range goals and the needs of the current and former residents of the Spruces.

Neither the Photech nor the Water Street sites could easily provide the type of homes that are the community norm and that was lost to our neighbors in the Spruces: freestanding, single-family homes. The proposal is not for a mobile home park. The houses will be small, but attractive. They will offer people the chance to own pets, to avoid dependence on elevators, to have gardens, and even their own backyards. Sound familiar? These options might rightly be call the community standard here in Williamstown.

The Lowry property, originally purchased by the town for construction of the regional high school, is currently underutilized as a town resource. It was never intended for conservation. It has no particular ecological merit.

It has no parking and no recreational amenities. It is not part of an existing farm or forest and is currently used only as a source of hay and as an extended backyard for a small number of residents.

The conceptual plan commissioned by the Affordable Housing Committee and the Affordable Housing Trust would put 41 houses clustered on the central 10 acres of the 30-acre Lowry parcel. The proposal locates them far from the Stratton Road neighbors, preserves two-thirds of the property as open space, and leaves a large buffer of extra backyard for these 12 homeowners.

Already, 30 current or former residents of the Spruces have signed up for units. The proposal would leave close to 10 of the 15 acres currently hayed for that purpose, and the remainder would serve as a greenbelt for recreation, easily accessible to all of our residents. Protection of the viewshed is incorporated into the conceptual plan.

Further, the 115-acre Spruces property would be developed for community and agricultural use. Trails, a soccer pitch, river access, dog park and picnic grounds are some of the suggested uses. Land on this site would be made available for agricultural use, including hay, by our local farmers.

We owe it to our elderly population to treat them with dignity and respect, and, yes, even share our mountain views with them. We support the use of town property for the benefit of the entire town. Please come to the special town meeting and oppose the efforts to permanently remove both the Lowry and Burbank properties from consideration for affordable housing.

ANNE R. SKINNER

Williamstown

The writer is president, Williamstown League of Women Voters.