Williamstown launches push to turn brownfields into affordable housing


WILLIAMSTOWN -- Efforts to address a need for affordable housing in the community have just taken a big step forward.

The Williamstown Board of Selectmen on Monday night unanimously ap proved a motion to issue requests for proposals for affordable housing and mixed-use development at two town-owned brownfield sites.

"We’re grateful to the Selectmen for their support, and we’re thrilled to be on the threshold of issuing RFPs," said Cathy Yamamoto, chairwoman of the Williamstown Affordable Housing Com mittee. "We’re open to creative thinking on behalf of the developers. Any development on these sites is part of the solution."

Developing the properties -- a former town garage site at 59 Water St. and the 4.8-acre former Photech Mill site at 233 Cole Ave. -- has been a priority for the committee, which released a Housing Needs Assessment last February.

State guidelines recommend that 10 percent of a municipality’s housing stock meet the commonwealth’s definition of affordable housing. Williamstown should, under those terms, have about 300 affordable housing units.

"We have about half of that," Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto said she will begin preparing and sending out RFPs to be advertised in the state’s Central Register. They will be posted there and for public review in town hall for 30 days.

The expectations of both the committee and Select Board is to have responses submitted to Town Manager Peter Fohlin by March 7. Review of the proposals would begin around March 10. Recommendations would then be made, and possibly decisions on projects by mid-April.

Though the board would then be charged with evaluating and making any decision regarding proposals, Selectman David Rempell said he hopes that the Affordable Housing Committee will be actively involved in reviewing the proposals and advising the Select Board on which might best meet the town’s needs.

"We should all be at the table reviewing the proposals," he said.

Yamamoto said that any proposals received by the town are considered public documents and also will be available for public review.

Selectman Thomas Sheldon noted that the RFPs include an appendix of preferences gathered through a series of community listening sessions that were open to the public.

"This is community feedback," Fohlin said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board unanimously authorized Fohlin to hire Trish Smith under a two-year, $58,080 contract to serve as the town’s relocation advisory agent for the 66 individual and family households that will have to be relocated from the Spruces Mobile Home Park.

Sheldon and Select Board Chairwoman Jane Allen said they both attended a luncheon on Sunday sponsored by the nonprofit group Higher Ground, at which Allen informed residents of their new liaison. The group has been supporting town residents, particularly those living in the Spruces, whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the flooding caused in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene.

"The residents of the Spruces were delighted by this news," Allen said.

Fohlin said Smith will likely make her first trip to Williamstown next week, to begin drafting a relocation plan. The contract states that Smith will spend a minimum of 10 hours with each individual or family to assess their case and determine the amount of compensation they qualify for through the FEMA reimbursement grant the town received in the wake of the disaster.

Allen said time is of the essence in terms of relocating residents.

"There are people [of the Spruces] who have [housing] opportunities and are anxious for it," she said.


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