What's more important?
To the editor:
For all of the people who are opposed to the Lowry and Burbank properties being used for housing, here are a few things to think about. You state that we need to keep open spaces free from development and be able to have farmland and I understand that, but I also realize there is a dire need for housing that can not be overlooked. Many of the homes near the land we are talking about once sat on farm land.
If you live on the west side of Stratton Road, south of the Lowry property, or on the new section of Longview Terrace, or any development on the east side of Stratton Road south of Cobbleview Road, think of where your home was built, and built within recent history - is there is a good chance it was farmland?
Are you in any of the new homes built in the last few years on or just off Oblong Road? Was that farmland? Absolutely.
You all enjoy living there, with all that the land offers you and your family. How would you feel if there had been a motion to disallow the building of your home? Also why now (after so many years of most people not even checking to see where it stood in regard to conservation) is it so important to pass a vote to put them (Lowry and Burbank) into conservation?
Sadly, we all know the answer to that, don't we? How many people came forward to stop you from building a home on what was farmland at one time? Very few, apparently, or your home wouldn't be there.
Stop at the Photech Mill and Old Town Garage sites when you are out and about some time. Step out of your vehicle, take a look around. Would you like this to be the site of your next home, or housing for your elderly family members? These lands are contaminated and I am sure not many of you would feel safe planting a vegetable garden there even after it has been cleaned up. At Photech the Hoosac River would be threatening your home in a flood situation. The Spruces residents can tell you about flooding, and many of us do not want to go through it again. I applaud Mr. Fohlin and everyone who realizes that Lowry is the best place to begin a new community. We bought our homes in The Spruces with the hope that we would be here for many years, and through no fault of our own, Irene came and made that impossible. Most of us that have remained here are the ones who did not receive large funds from FEMA. We stayed and used our own money to bring our places up to the codes that were required from storm damage. It has given us the chance to stay in our own homes for a few years and be able to have our pets with us, plus a very slight sense of peace.
We didn't ask for a storm to tear the park or the community apart. We didn't ask to have our homes taken away from us. What we did ask for was a solution, and thankfully, Mr. Fohlin and other concerned, compassionate citizens realized our need and stepped forward to help us. Every day we live in limbo not knowing where we will be in a few years as we wait for our fate to be determined, while the arguing over land continues on. Our community has gone through a disaster that has left many in a state of depression and despair that has raised the level of stress here immensely. Everywhere I look I see an article about how we need to help the people at The Spruces but then along comes a statement from someone or a group about needing to discuss, vote and conserve the very land that would actually be our solution. Since when has land become more important than a human life? It is not feasible to even think of rebuilding The Spruces as it stands, but to create our community of single-dwelling homes on higher ground where we wouldn't have to worry about the next flood makes sense to many of us. The Lowry property for Irene Cottages is absolutely the way to proceed with humanity, fairness and dignity.
Please, ‘Just the facts, ma'am'
To the editor:
The recent letter to the editor of The Advocate from the Williamstown League of Women Voters President Anne R. Skinner falls short of providing the voters of Williamstown with a clear explanation of facts regarding the use of town-owned conservation land in Williamstown for subsidized affordable housing. Ms. Skinner states that over the last 10 years "we have put 300 acres of land in conservation." This statement is misleading. Williamstown has not done this. Private land owners have made a personal choice to place their properties under conservation restrictions.
This has nothing to do with the town moving forward on the creation of affordable housing. Are you suggesting the efforts of private land owners have caused the town to fail to successfully create subsidized affordable housing? This is a false argument. Any failure on the part of the town to do so has nothing to do with the private landowners placing these properties into conservation. In fact, over the last 10 years Williamstown has not acquired or preserved any property for the benefit of conservation.
To continue the mantra that other non-conservation, town-owned sites would not provide or meet our long range goals for affordable housing is equally misleading. Are you suggesting that by not providing housing on these other town-owned sites we are getting closer to achieving our affordable housing goal? One would think that for every unit of affordable housing that you create, there is one less that is needed in order to meet the state's arbitrary figure of 10 percent affordable housing per community.
Her letter states that the homes to be created on other non-conservation town-owned properties will not be a community like The Spruces. What will these houses look like? We are told that these affordable single family homes will be small "Irene Cottages." This term was coined by an organization named Upper Valley Strong. With a grant, UV Strong developed a design brochure of these cottages. UV Strong's design team coordinator this week acknowledged that in fact to date no "Irene Cottages" have ever been built. Not one, let alone the 41 proposed for this project.
The League president suggests that the Lowry property is underutilized as a town resource; it has no particular ecological merit, no parking, and no recreational amenities, is only used for hay and is an extended back yard for a small number of homes.
Being underutilized by some may be the result of poor communication by the town. Not one of the nine town-owned parcels under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission is even mentioned by name let alone location on their Web home page. In fact, the Stratton Hills Condominiums provide three dedicated parking spaces in the western corner of its parking lot in front of the yellow Williamstown Conservation Land sign on the Lowry property for public parking and access to that property. This agreement has been in place since the early 1990s.
The purpose for creating open space and conservation land is in itself the "recreational amenity." It is for the public at large to capitalize on those recreations that do not require the construction of amenities. If it's not your thing, that's OK. But for many others, and not just those being described as having extended back yards, it provides an affordable, ecological and green alternative of recreation.
As for, "used only as a source for hay," one might read the iBerkshire.com article of Jan, 26 titled "Land Debate Looms Over Williamstown Farmer's Future Harvest." It will enlighten the reader on the economic impact to local farmers and businesses for such proposals to remove conservation lands for subsidized housing development.
Ms. Skinner states that the project is only 41 houses clustered on 10 acres of land, preserving two-thirds as open space. Never have I heard less explained as more. If two-thirds is worth preserving, then the argument for 100 percent is all the more obvious.
The development of this conservation land under the umbrella of affordable housing allows for the complete disregard to our current local zoning, subdivision and planning regulations in Williamstown under Massachusetts Chapter 40B. We would be creating a 41-unit development that is non-conforming to many of the minimum development standards and requirements established by our town. In essence we would be spot zoning. This does not even address the financial cost to the town. No one can tell you what it will cost to develop the infrastructure or the construction of these "Irene Cottages," none of which have ever been built.
We are told what a wonderful place the 115-acre former Spruces would be for community and agricultural use, when in fact for decades that land has been used for agriculture and feed production and by removing the existing mobile home park this would create no net gain of agricultural productivity to the community. Conversely, removing the Lowry property from conservation and agriculture will result in a net loss of this prime natural resource.
I don't doubt that there are current residents of The Spruces who have signed on to this plan. But what have the residents of the Spruces been promised? What will it cost them and what guarantees are there that the promise of low cost early entry will not result in increases after the fact to cover the many costs that are yet unknown on this date.
Yes, the voters of Williamstown will come together at a Special Town Meeting within the next 30 days or so, not to oppose, but rather to support the long-standing commitment this town made to its residents by citizen vote to preserve and protect for generations to come these lands under conservation within our community.
Robert J. Scerbo
Preserve conservation land
To the editor:
The good people of Williamstown have a critical decision in front of them.
Speaking as a neighbor and frequent visitor to the Village Beautiful, I have to say that their Petition calling for a Special Town Meeting to assign permanent conservation land status to the Lowry and Burbank properties affects us all. I am urging the community to attend this Special Town Meeting where they can have an open discussion and vote on converting these two properties to conservation land in perpetuity. Looking at the property history, it certainly seems that has been the intention of those who have come before us. It also makes good sense now as well.
The newspapers tell a story of good intentioned neighbors and townspeople stewarding this land for conservation purposes. Now, as certain town spokesmen are proposing that this property be used for affordable housing, the decisions of the past are ill-advisedly being contested. Neighbors, landowners and businesses have invested in the area because of this conservation land promise. How sad.
The Lowry property has served as an inspiration and source of renewal for countless people over time. It has supported farming and recreation space and it is breathtakingly beautiful in any season and by anyone's measure.
Carolyn Henderson and Robert Micley have cultivated a wonderful farm business immediately contiguous that welcomes new visitors to Williamstown, casual hikers, college students, Steeple Cats, cross country skiers, and more as they enjoy the air, the solitude and nature dramatically in play in this accessible location, with foxes, hawks, deer, grouse and bear - all animals that also make their home on the property or at least trek through it frequently enough to be expected company. The current use is a rare treasure for the community and their neighbors.
And yes, I have been boarding my horse at Clover Hill Farm for almost eight years and I ride the fields and trails several times a week. But this concern for conservation land is much, much bigger than one person and that person's use. The land is for the entire town. Building housing on land designated for conservation challenges the trust into which former voters and town planners have put that land. A steward is one who manages another's property and it seems that what is before the Williamstown community is a decision to abandon that trust or preserve it.
As a good neighbor I hope that Williamstown voters attend the Special Town Meeting and vote to designate the Lowry and Burbank properties as permanent conservation land.
Save The Spruces
To the editor:
In 1999, the owner of a condominum I was renting notified me that the unit had been sold and I needed to vacate within 30 days.
Having grown up in Williamstown and having a daughter that had been enrolled in the Williamstown school system since kindergarten, I felt the need to stay in Williamstown. Finding an apartment in Williamstown within 30 days was close to impossible. As the deadline approached, I found that buying a mobile home at The Spruces was the only option. Though reluctant to live in a mobile home park, that was what I did. I told myself that The Spruces was only a temporary solution and I would continue to look for another location in town.
As time went on, I found that I loved living in a small and quiet community in the center of town, and I loved owning my own home. I would never have to worry about my living situation changing again, unless it was by my own choice. Knowing this, I was able to add pets to my life.
The majority of rental properties do not allow pets, but the Spruces community does, and many of us have pets that we love and enjoy. If we are forced to move, where will we go with our beloved pets? And how will we afford the average $700 per month plus utilities? As this is a retirement community, most of us are retired with meager Social Security incomes. Some residents are disabled.
Over the years, I constantly upgraded my home: A new energy efficient furnace and hot water heaters were a part of this, along with replacement of "mobile home windows."
In March of 2011, a major renovation began. I had my open kitchen/living room completely gutted: Additional support rafters and heavy-duty insulation were placed under my new ceiling. The interior walls were removed, and 2 X 4 studs were added, along with more high-grade insulation. Wood floors and ceramic tiles replaced the linoleum. Beautiful kitchen cabinets, counters, and appliances changed my 1967 decor into the kitchen of my dreams. I love my home.
The Spruces community has been here for 50 plus years and enjoyed by many, many residents throughout this period of time.
In the past no one really paid too much attention to our community. Now, suddenly, we are considered to be "in harm's way" by the town of Williamstown, and if the town has its way, our community will be destroyed. Do I feel that I am in harm's way? Absolutely not! I knew when I moved here that The Spruces was located in a 100-year floodplain. No one has forced any of us to live here. We live here by choice.
Please help us to "SAVE THE SPRUCES."
Linda J. Chesbro