Phyllis McGuire: Williamstown looks back, ahead to new year

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The excitement of New Year's Eve is just a memory, holiday decorations have come down, it's dark at breakfast and dark at dinner.

But the new year lies ahead of us like a beacon of hope for its "story" is yet to be written.

What will we contribute to the story: accomplishments, challenges conquered, struggles with change. And will we repeat the mistakes we made in 2016?

Some people I spoke to when 2016 was dying were glad to see it go, "I had nothing but bad luck this year," one person said.

Other people wished 2017 would be as good to them as 2016 was. There was the person who landed a job in 2016 after being unemployed for two years.

I wondered what Williamstown would say about 2016, if it had a voice. Hmm, I thought, who better to speak for Williamstown than Town Manager Jason Hoch.

I caught up with Hoch in the busy holiday season and he generously took the time to answer my questions.

Q: Was Williamstown glad or sad to see the old year go?

A: Pleased to move forward to a new year. A number of successes this year; however, many projects are in their infancy or are taking longer to come to fruition. So, excited to move on to the next year when we will actually be able to see the benefits of the work of 2016.

Q: What impact will accomplishments of 2016 have on the community?

A: Significant gains in addition of new housing at both Highland Woods and Cable Mill, adding over 100 new units of housing in town. Exciting to see communities of residents forming in those locations — some are relocations from within town, others are new to the area and others are returning to Williamstown. These are adding new vibrancy to organizations and business activity.

Last year also saw the final closure of The Spruces; clearly a bittersweet accomplishment. While all former residents have found new homes and the town has fulfilled it's obligation to discontinue the park and clear the site, the departure of the last remaining residents this year marked with finality the loss of a close-knit neighborhood that was part of our community for decades. We are also now at pivot point as we consider next steps for the land, as we seek to make the space a meaningful part of Williamstown in a new way for current and future generations.

Q: Most individuals experienced a disappointment in 2016. What about Williamstown?

A: It is always disappointing when we have any local businesses, whether they have been around long term or only a short while, reach the decision to close. We had several departures this year and I look forward to welcoming new activity into the spaces vacated over the past year.

Q: Will efforts be renewed in 2017 to bring an idea or plan to fruition?

A: Delighted to be partnering with Williams College to bring the awaited solar panel project to completion on top of the old landfill. With market changes early in 2016, I thought we might have to abandon (that project). Instead we developed a great partnership with [Williams] College who found a way to bring this project to their sustainability program and to support the community. Once it is fully operational, it will generate enough power to completely offset the power use by the town, school district and fire district.

Q: Have you set any goals for the new year?

A: I believe in tackling things as they arise and making continuous incremental progress on bigger goals and aspirations, so a change in the calendar doesn't impact that approach significantly. I hope to keep working with community members and our staff to make Williamstown an even better place to live, to work and to visit."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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