Williamstown Planning Board turnover raises hope for era of 'smart growth'

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WILLIAMSTOWN — With the election of two new members to the five-member Planning Board, some town officials are looking forward to seeing how they approach new zoning cases.

"My hope is that they will come to any issue with an open mind, look at all the facts and approach things with a eye toward making Williamstown a wonderful place for everyone," said Jane Patton, chairwoman of the Williamstown Select Board. "We need to see the possibilities, and get away from fear-based decision making."

Chris Kapiloff was elected to a two-year term on the Planning Board, defeating Anne Hogeland and Bruce MacDonald in Tuesday's annual town election. Susan Puddester was elected to a five-year term, defeating incumbent Sarah Gardner.

The recent controversy over a proposal to allow Waubeeka Golf Links to explore a plan to build an inn exposed a rift in the previous board, with three members — Ann McCallum, Elizabeth McGowan and Sarah Gardner — seeking to limit the scope of what the golf course could do, and the other two — Amy Jeschawitz and Christopher Winters — seeking to allow enough leeway for the golf course to earn enough revenue to sustain itself over time.

Some observers see the election as a change in that voting pattern; both Kapiloff and Puddester have expressed a willingness to embrace "smart growth" and have publicly supported the Waubeeka effort.

McCallum, the lone remaining Planning Board member perceived as trying to block the project, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Sarah Gardner.

Both, along with Elizabeth McGowan, were named in an Open Meeting Law complaint filed with the town on Monday alleging they improperly deliberated about the Waubeeka project. Gardner and McCallum also were named in a complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission on Tuesday.

Patton said she hopes the new Planning Board "will be able to rally people together to a common goal that embraces smart growth and where potential is not evil. There has been a division in town between conservation of open space and smart growth of the tax base. But these things don't have to be mutually exclusive. You can have both."

Newly elected Planning Board member Susan Puddester said she looks forward to moving forward on some of the priorities identified in the recent economic development report, like moderately priced housing.

"We need to find places where more people can live," she said. "And I'm hoping we can really think about how things can be done for different uses — look at what will work and what won't, and it has to be done very carefully."

She also wants the board, and townsfolk, to exhibit more "trust in other town boards to do their jobs and handle the next steps. The Planning Board is just the first step."

Puddester is experienced in social work and is now president of Higher Ground, a nonprofit tasked with providing relief and aiding in relocation for victims of the Spruces flooding in 2011.

Chris Kapiloff is a fourth-generation native of Williamstown, and a 1996 graduate of Mount Greylock High School. He grew up next door to the Waubeeka golf course. After graduating from Messiah College, during which time he rose to the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, he taught history at Mount Greylock Regional School until 2002. He was elected to the Mount Greylock School Committee in 2004 and served a four-year term.

Kapiloff co-owns an Adams-based company, Kapiloff's Glass, grown from the family business, which supplies specialized glass products to construction projects.

He acknowledged the election resulted in "what seems to be a change in voting patterns."

"I think this will bring positive changes to the town as a whole," Kapiloff said. "There is this divide between land conservation versus new development, as if you can only have one or the other. I reject that as a premise. Getting rid of either will not serve the town. We need to be able to maintain both."

He said the voters on Tuesday sent a clear message "that people think our town has been declining and that is not what the voters want in the years to come. We cannot afford to not grow. We can't stay stagnant."

Planning Board member Christopher Winters said he is looking forward to working with the new members.

"Things are going to look a little different," he said. "So I'm excited to serve with the new members — I believe they'll make great additions."

As for the Waubeeka question, which goes to Town Meeting on Tuesday, Winters hopes folks will turn out and vote in support of the golf course plan, as the Select Board did last Monday, "because it will have significant public benefit."

Jeschawitz the Planning Board chairwoman, and Patton, the Select Board chairwoman, both expressed gratitude for the work of outgoing Planning Board members Gardner and McGowan.

Jeschawitz also said she is looking forward to working with the new board members.

"People in the community have come to recognize a new energy coming about," she said. "And with these new members, we've got people who have lived here, but also lived in other places. They bring a different perspective, and I think that's great."

Jeschawitz said nobody wants strip malls or big-box chain stores coming to town.

"We need to let some things happen, and let the market drive some of them," she said. "But regardless of what's put before us, I believe we'll be able to deal with it with open minds."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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