Williamstown voters approve zoning changes for accessory dwelling units

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Some local homeowners will find it a bit easier to build a smallish house on their property, or convert their single-family house into a duplex, after Tuesday's annual town meeting.

The two zoning bylaw amendments passed with large margins, far exceeding the two-thirds majority requirement to pass zoning changes.

Article 33 on the warrant to allow the construction of accessory dwelling units by right on conforming lots drew the most debate when Dante Birch, newly elected member of the Planning Board, offered an amendment to the proposal. His amendment would have required all accessory dwelling units to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit.

Birch maintained that allowing conforming lots to bypass the ZBA creates a two-tier status for property owners. By requiring the nonconforming lots to go before the ZBA, only those properties would be properly vetted for creating hardships on abutting property owners. He said such a two-tier system would also create tensions among neighbors.

Planning Board member Stephanie Boyd explained that in creating the proposal, the Planning Board is working to create more moderately priced housing to diversify the housing stock in town, help sustain economic viability and put more kids in the schools, all of which help to lower the tax rates.

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She noted that requiring special permits for all accessory dwelling units would erect an unnecessary obstacle that would discourage homeowners' interest in putting a second structure on their property.

Boyd said if passed without the amendment, there would be no sudden influx of new structures. "We estimate there might be about 10 of them build over the next 10 years," she said.

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After a number of comments from voters, the amendment was defeated with 175 votes against, 78 votes for. The proposed bylaw change then passed with 205 voting for it and 32 against.

The proposal to allow conversion of a single-family home to a two-family structure by right had an easier path. After brief discussion, it passed with 204 yes votes to six against.

In other business, town meeting voters approved the new water rate, which will decrease by 15 cents, to $3.70 per 750 gallons. The sewer rate was also approved with a 17-cent decrease, to $2.55 per 750 gallons.

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The overall budget was approved as proposed and will result in a 2.45 percent increase in the tax rate, or a 44-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed property value added to the current rate of $18.05.

Also approved were allocations under the capital improvement program to complete several paving and infrastructure projects, including the resurfacing of residential streets in the Cole Avenue neighborhood including: Elm, Hall, Maple and Linden streets. There will also be money to resurface the Linear Park tennis court and add a pickleball court. Money is also proposed to resurface Luce Road.

Other allocations approved by voters include $6,000 to the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, $77,000 to the Williamstown Youth Center and $19,000 to Sand Springs Recreational Center. Another appropriation of $34,800 for Sand Springs will pay for a project to add a lift, allowing use of the second floor once it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Another $80,000 was earmarked for a project proposed by the Friends of Linear Park to help buy and install a new playground.

According to Town Clerk Mary Kennedy, 238 voters attended town meeting, or about 4 percent of the town's 5,796 registered voters.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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