Williamstown Select Board backs affordable housing project at PhoTech Mill site


WILLIAMSTOWN -- A plan to build affordable housing units on a brownfield site in the town has won the endorsement of the Select Board, leaving in question the future of a second such site.

After more than two hours of discussion, the board voted 3-2 this week to enter negotiations with Pittsfield-based Berkshire Housing and Development Corp., which hopes to build 46 affordable housing units on the former PhoTech Mill on Cole Avenue.

The vote comes despite a recommendation by the Affordable Housing Committee, which voted 6-0 last week to endorse an alternate plan by Boston's Arch Street Development, LLC. That plan called for units at PhoTech as well as the former town garage site at 59 Water St.

"I do not see Water Street as an ideal location for affordable family housing," board Chairwoman Jane Allen said. "It's not that I'd be opposed... if it was a mixed-use project."

Selectman Ronald Turbin agreed, saying the board must think of the "big picture" when making decisions.

Berkshire Housing's proposal, in collaboration with the Women's Institute for Economic Development, calls for a three-story, 46-unit apartment building on PhoTech site at a cost of $14.47 million. Arch Street's proposal envisioned a multi-story, 25-unit building at 59 Water St. and 60 units of townhomes on the PhoTech site at a cost of $30 million.

Requests for proposals were issued in January and drew two responses that the Affordable Housing Committee vetted during several meetings in March and April.

Committee Chairwoman Cathy Yamamoto, in an emailed statement on Wednesday, said that "both proposals were excellent and either would serve the town well" and committee members "are extremely pleased with the outcome."

"As we already know from the Williams College Highland Woods development, Berkshire Housing and The Women's Institute are a great team," she said. "They will design a project that makes the most of the PhoTech site and one that is responsive to the neighbors."

Representatives from both developers were on hand Tuesday to field questions from selectmen and community members.

Much of the discussion focused on the chances of successfully funding and eventually marketing each project. Board members said they'd like to see an updated market study, which developers noted would be completed if they were awarded the project.

"I'm deeply concerned about the number of units," Allen said. "I have not heard anything other than more emotional reasons why we should build more units."

Others expressed a concern over challenges on the 4.8 acre PhoTech site, which lies adjacent to the Hoosic River, including the presence of a 100-year floodplain and 2-foot-wide sewer pipe.

Allen, Turbin and David Rempell ultimately voted for Berkshire Housing's proposal, while selectmen Thomas Sheldon and Jane Patton cast a vote for Arch Street.

"To fly in the face of this adamant 6-0 vote by people who have given so much work, I'm troubled that we aren't giving more weight to their opinions," Patton said.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a license for Win Chenail to farm on a portion of the Spruces property.
  • Reviewed and voted its recommendations on 37 warrant articles for the May 13 annual town meeting.
  • Approved seasonal alcohol licenses for the Clark Art Institute, Taconic Golf Club, and Waubeeka Golf Links.

To reach Edward Damon:


or (413) 663-3741, ext 224.

On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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