Three from Williamstown Affordable Housing Committee submit resignations
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Three members of the town's Affordable Housing Committee have submitted letters of resignation, days after Selectmen voted against the committee's recommendation for redevelopment of two brownfield sites.
Chairwoman Cathy Yamamoto said Friday that her and Charles Bonenti have submitted resignations effective April 25. Cheryl Shanks's resignation was effective Tuesday night, she said.
Yamamoto, who's served on the committee for 10 years, declined further comment.
Selectmen voted 3-2 on Tuesday to enter negotiations with Pittsfield-based Berkshire Housing and Development Corp., which in collaboration with the Women's Institute for Housing and Economic Development, hopes to build 46 affordable housing units on the former PhoTech Mill at 330 Cole Ave.
The vote comes despite a 6-0 vote from the AHC last week to endorse an alternate plan by Boston's Arch Street Development, LLC. That plan called for 60 units on PhoTech as well as 25 on the former town garage site at 59 Water St.
In an emailed statement on Wednesday, Yamamoto said that "both proposals were excellent and either would serve the town well" and committee members "are extremely pleased with the outcome."
Dylan Stafford, one of five remaining members, echoed those sentiments when reached Friday.
"The remaining members are very happy we're getting more affordable housing," he said.
But he added Tuesday's vote was "essentially a vote of no confidence from the Board of Selectmen."
"It's just disappointing they decided to not go with our recommendation at Tuesday's meeting," he said. "I think [the resigning members] were frustrated that Selectmen voted against something we unanimously voted on, something we've worked on for months. ... We were just as split about it as they were. But as a committee, we decided the best thing was to go with Arch Street."
Requests for proposals were created by the AHC and issued by Selectmen in January, and the AHC vetted both responses in several meetings in March and April.
Chairwoman Jane Allen, Ronald Turbin and David Rempell voted for Berkshire Housing's proposal, while selectmen Thomas Sheldon and Jane Patton each cast a vote for Arch Street.
Selectmen voting for Berkshire Housing's proposal expressed they felt it to be better developed. In addition, discussion focused on the chances of successfully funding and eventually marketing each project. Board members said they'd like to see an updated housing market study, which developers said would be completed if they were awarded the project.
Questions were also raised of whether Water Street, a dirt lot adjacent to Williams College which many use for parking, would instead be better suited for mixed-use and commercial development.
Yamamoto and Bonenti argued Arch Street would allow a maximum number of units on land in the center of town, there being few sites that could accommodate new housing. They also referenced the controversy sparked by discussion of developing the Lowry and Burbank properties on Stratton Road.
"If not these two sites, then where?" Yamamoto asked Selectmen.
In an interview Friday, Allen said she has concerns over both sites. PhoTech is adjacent to the Hoosic River, she noted, and the 100-year floodplain runs through the site.
"It was with great hope I voted for affordable housing at that site," she said.
"Forty-six units of much needed affordable housing is far from a reality at [PhoTech], and much work remains to be done," Town Manager Peter Fohlin wrote to remaining members in an email on Thursday. "The need for neighborhood outreach by trusted members of our community is clear. We all want this new housing to lift up the neighborhood and the town. Both support and oversight of [the developers] will be necessary to assure the best possible outcome for future residents of [PhoTech]."
Work to redevelop the properties has been in the pipeline for years and have included thousands in environmental remediation and community listening sessions.
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