No end run around Williamstown planners
To the editor:
We on the Williamstown Planning Board heard a petition about six months ago from Mike Deep, who owns the Waubeeka golf course. The following is an account of subsequent events.
Mr. Deep claimed the golf course is losing money and that a new hotel might keep it afloat. Would the Planning Board be behind rezoning the site to allow a hotel (presently not an allowed use in Rural Residence zones)? This was an unusual request, and one generally frowned on as "spot zoning" meaning that it would benefit not a swath of town but just one owner of one lot. The Planning Board agreed that in this case, enabling most of the golf course to stay as open space could also benefit the whole town, as it would keep the important southern gateway to the town with its gorgeous mountain views, so important to all of us residents as well as to our tourist industry.
The agreed upon idea was that he would take part of the property to develop as his hotel, and in return he would ensure that the rest of the property would be left as open space never to be built on.
Over the course of several meetings, we tried to hammer out a bylaw that would satisfy both parties, but there remained intractable sticking points such as how many acres the development would cover and how to ensure the open land would stay as open land. Eventually it was clear we could not reach consensus. With the open-ended by-law Mr. Deep wanted, the town would run the risk of a disaster: an inappropriately sized development for this crucial part of town, or worse still one that would start with enthusiasm and then run out of money and be abandoned after just a few years.
So we passed a motion saying the Planning Board was enthusiastically behind the idea of a country inn on the golf course (to help assure potential developers) and asking Mr. Deep to provide three items before we went any further: a market study studying the hotel needs for North Berkshire County, a schematic plan of his proposal, and a potential developer/partner, with whom we could discuss issues that would be important in ensuring a hotel that the Town would feel was worth the unusual trade-off. Once we had that, we could craft the appropriate by-law to accommodate his needs.
Not willing to provide the Planning Board's requests (though he provided partial answers at the recent public hearing), Mr. Deep is going for an end run around the board, with a citizen's petition that will be voted on at Town Meeting, bypassing the Planning Board. The opinion of a majority of the Planning Board members remains opposed to this petition.
Development at any cost is not good Planning.
Ann McCallum, Williamstown The writer is vice chair of the Williamstown Planning Board.