On May 21, in one fell swoop, Williamstown will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quickly, responsibly and economically create 100 or more units of affordable housing, truly help the residents of the Spruces, support open government, conservation, open space, affordable housing and add some recreation space.
A YES vote on Article 36 of the town warrant will grant $365,000 to a qualified "Save The Spruces" group to form a cooperative to exercise their legally protected right of first refusal to purchase the park. This town subsidy will be used to impose deed/lot/park restrictions that will enable those Spruces units to meet state definitions of subsidized affordable housing units. Saving the Spruces also obviates the necessity to create 66 units of additional housing if the Spruces residents are heartlessly evicted by the town.
The co-op creation will also permit the Army Corps of Engineers to study the sources of flooding for the Spruces. This possibility was confirmed with a conference call in which I participated with Karen Ashton, project planner and Thomas J. Hodson, chief, from the Corps’ Plan Formulation Branch on April 5. The town has sadly created the false impression that nothing can be done to mitigate the water problems or to make the homes safer on the Spruces property. After the Spruces co-op assumes park ownership, additional recreational and agricultural uses of the park can be negotiated for bike paths, boat launches, dog parks, cultural event space and athletic fields.
Since February 2012, the town has been routinely working in secrecy, likely illegally, to form a coup to take over the Spruces land under the guise of "helping" the Spruces residents and prevent the residents from exercising their legal right to form a co-op and buy the park. It has been arrogantly using heavy-handed tactics, intimidation, and confusion to create undue pressure on Spruces residents to be fearful of exercising their legal rights. A perfect example is the town’s shameless roll-out and promotion of a plan and formation of a committee for developing a town-owned Spruces park while the residents still have the legal right to live there for two to four more years. This timing is totally unconscionable and orchestrated to make it extremely difficult for a Spruces co-op to be formed.
If there is a will, there is a way to put Williamstown back together again, and it starts with a YES vote on Article 36. It is our moral imperative.