WilliamstownTownHall1

The Williamstown Planning Board has moved one step closer to finalizing changes to the town's zoning bylaw.

WILLIAMSTOWN — The Planning Board has finalized the list of zoning bylaw amendments that will be the topic of a public hearing in mid-March.

The general goal of the proposed changes is to encourage more housing, and more diversity of housing in town.

The discussion was tense at times, with some concerns expressed by board members and residents speaking during public comments about the perceived rush to get the provisions passed. Board members Roger Lawrence and Stephanie Boyd called for further study on possible consequences of the proposals.

One proposal, to allow three- and four-family dwellings in rural and downtown areas, was supported despite concerns about unanticipated consequences that it might have, especially in rural neighborhoods. There also were calls for more study on the topic.

Another idea that did not pass muster was a proposal to allow larger multifamily dwellings in rural areas.

A proposal to allow septic systems to be an “approved” option for housing that is not attached to the town sewer system was defeated, over concerns of environmental impact in South Williamstown’s rural neighborhoods.

One measure that drew some heat was a proposal to reduce lot-size requirements in rural areas by one-third, reducing the minimum lot size from 2½ acres to 1 2/3 acres, which passed with a divided vote of 3-2. Another proposal, to reduce lot sizes in the more densely zoned town center by one-third, also passed, on a vote of 4-1.

Proposals that were allowed to continue to the public hearing included one to allow residential uses on second-story spaces that are over retail or commercial uses; and to increase the number of dwellings in a multiunit building from 16 to 24.

Other proposals that were allowed to continue include allowing parking spaces closer to buildings, from 30 feet to 20 feet, and reducing the distance between buildings from 40 feet to 30 feet.

Lawrence noted that, in his view, there was nothing in the proposals to increase affordable housing. Board Chairman Chris Winters explained that by increasing housing supply and allowing some smaller-size living units, affordability will follow.

The proposals that passed will be submitted to the Select Board, which will authorize a public hearing on the proposals. The final draft would have to be approved by the Select Board for inclusion on the warrant for town meeting in May.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com

or 413-281-4622.