Williamstown voters to consider spending increase, Waubeeka inn project


WILLIAMSTOWN — Voters will be asked to approve a spending plan with a 2.38 percent increase over last year when they convene for the annual town meeting on Tuesday.

They will also be considering several changes in the town's zoning bylaws, the most contentious of which is the proposal that would allow Waubeeka Golf Links to pursue a plan to build a country inn.

The total proposed spending budget for fiscal 2017 is $18.6 million and includes the $787,830 first debt service payment for the new high school project, according to Town Manager Jason Hoch.

"The budget this year is generally straightforward," Hoch said. "But the school spending was a little bit more — the elementary school was up over 6.3 percent — but it is still basically all for routine operation."

The Waubeeka proposal, for which there will be two competing amendments proposed, could allow the golf course to pursue further permitting for a plan to build an inn.

Owner Michael Deep has previously noted that the golf course is losing money annually and is in danger of closing down. He hopes to add a country inn to increase revenue to make the golf course profitable and to bring more visitors to town.

The golf course is in a residential zone and thus Deep would require special permission to develop an inn on the site. Several neighbors of the golf course, and three members of the five-member Planning Board, have opposed every proposal offered by Waubeeka. They maintain that Deep's concept has changed over time, and is too big for the area. They have also expressed a wish for further open space restrictions.

Deep's attorney, Stanley Parese, submitted a citizens petition to the Town Meeting warrant that would establish on overlay district. But in a concession to opponents' concerns about the size of the project, Deep has proposed an amendment that would shrink the footprint of the project from 40 acres to 10 acres — less than 5 percent of the property. That footprint would include all development, including buildings and parking lots.

The amendment, being referred to as the "Acreage Amendment," will also cap the number of hotel rooms at 120, and sets aside 67.5 acres of undeveloped land for a conservation restriction.

A competing amendment drafted by Planning Board members Sarah Gardner and Ann McCallum, known as the "Gardner Amendment," limits building space on the course to 50,000 square feet. That plan would allow the development to increase to 60,000 square feet if Deep gives up 40 more acres for permanent conservation restriction, in addition to the 67.5 acres

Deep has said that those requirements and limitations, combined with other requirements in the Gardner Amendment, would make the project unworkable.

For either amendment to be included in the citizens petition, it would need a simple majority of the vote.

As required by state law, any change to the zoning bylaw, such as the Waubeeka citizens petition, has to pass with a 2/3 majority at Town Meeting.

Other proposed zoning changes are designed to encourage economic growth, Hoch said, like classifying bike shops as standard retail, not grouped in with the car dealership requirements. Allowing for low-impact home office uses is another example.

"It's a matter of streamlining some things that are unnecessarily burdensome or, in the bike shop case, patently absurd," he said. "We should clean some of these things up because it's just good planning."

Also proposed is a zoning change that will allow Williams College to relocate the Williams Inn to the bottom of Spring Street.

The proposal is to extend the Village Business District zone a few hundred feet south and west of the end of Spring Street, allowing the college to continue on to the next set of requirements and permissions.

This year's proposed elementary school budget is slightly more than $6 million. The town's proposed share of the budget for McCann Tech is $239,108, up from $206,751 last year, or a 15.7 percent hike.

The town's proposed share of the Mount Greylock High School budget is $5.9 million, a roughly $1 million increase over last year. That figure includes the proposed first debt payment of $787,830 for the new high school project.


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