The sheer number of attendees at the recent Special Town Meeting demonstrated that a number of voters felt the various town committees were out of touch with the majority and that committees failed to consider all the angles sufficiently and missed many opportunities take that input in to account.
The small committees appeared to rush to conclusions on insufficient grounds and failed to adequately consider not only the ramifications of their proposals but failed also to anticipate the resistance they would meet.
The sense of urgency to meet the need at The Spruces lead to a series of missteps and bypassed the most obvious, the most immediate and the most viable solution of all, that of simply saving The Spruces.
Town committees and town employees voiced the opinion that The Spruces could not be made safe. That is simply not factually correct. The Spruces can and should be saved and utilized to its fullest capacity for the following reasons and in the following ways:
* Only by protecting The Spruces can the town accommodate all of the remaining residents presently living there and in the quickest time frame. Even Lowry could not in the most recent proposal, provide housing for all of the remaining residents at The Spruces.
* If The Spruces is closed and those residents are given priority for housing at Lowry, that does nothing to address the need for more affordable housing in Williamstown.
* The Spruces currently pays real estate taxes to the town. If the town develops Lowry, the town loses much needed tax revenues.
* If The Spruces is protected from future flooding through the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers with additional flood control and protections, the entire park could potentially return to its former size and provide sites for as many as 260-300 homes thus immediately adding far many more affordable home options than any number of other proposals that have been put forth.
* If the town owned the entire park it will be maintained to the same standards as the rest of the town and rents can be controlled making the park highly affordable.
* If agreement was reached to save The Spruces and restore it to its original size, the community can then focus with less urgency and greater sense of calm on the next priority, increasing the number of affordable housing units in town.
* The Spruces is in an ideal location for the residents at the park by being on the bus route, within walking distance to the pharmacy, hardware store, coffee shop, restaurants and market. The location is attractive and central and nestled in the valley. The Spruces offers a unique sense of community where older citizens can feel safe and where close neighbors can keep in contact and build friendships and support groups. There are communal facilities, such as the pool and meeting hall, further encouraging social interaction and friendships and the health and wellbeing of the residents.
* Saving and expanding The Spruces is virtually non-controversial. It is after all, there already. To save and rebuild The Spruces avoids the inevitable battles within the community over relocating such a large population to town-owned property, whether Lowry or any other site.
It is commonly understood that the reason for the flooding from Sandy was not from the Hoosic River overflowing but rather from the small streams coming from the Luce Road and Hamel Avenue areas to the south and backing up in to The Spruces. The Spruces was flooded from other neighborhoods and not from the Hoosic. Every spring the news media is filled with stories of rivers around the nation flooding vast areas including towns and cities. Some cities such as North Adams and Adams, New Orleans and my wife's home city of Evansville, Ind. have built levees and other forms of flood protection so they are now "safe." Consider for a moment how infinitesimally smaller is The Spruces need and potential project to shore up its protection by comparison.
The means are available in the form of federal aid, the reasons are readily apparent and the time to accomplish this is relatively fast, fast enough in fact such that if the community rallied together quickly behind this plan, it could probably even be designed and built before the next hurricane season. Why was The Spruces so quickly determined by those in positions of decision making that it should be abandoned? We can only speculate, but the fact is that none of the well intentioned people making these decisions that will impact the lives of others, and most particularly the lives of those living at The Spruces, live there or even have the ability to empathize with those residents. My former mother-in-law once lived there, an employee of mine lived there and I happen to know several other present and former residents.
They all liked living there and were grateful the option to live there, and in Williamstown, was available. No one on the various boards and committees that are making their life decisions lives there and the vast majority of town voters do not live there and yet in our hands is the power to make the decisions affecting their future.
Does the rush to close The Spruces remind anyone of the way in which our native American residents were forced from their homes in times past, without sensitivity to their wishes or needs? We can fix The Spruces to make it safe and indeed to create a model park again, as it once was, for the benefit of those in need of immediate affordable housing within our community in a location that is convenient, comfortable, familiar and safe with a modest investment by the federal government.
If you agree with the conclusion of the recent town meeting that further study on all the issues is needed, please consider expressing your request that the selectmen and town manager submit a formal application to the Army Corps of Engineers asking that if the town or The Spruces owners' association took ownership of the property would the Corps develop a plan to protect the park in its entirety from future flooding. We need to know this information before any decisions should be made regarding the future of The Spruces, Lowry or any other sites in town and before any further funds are expended on trying to build other affordable housing.
We as a community can meet the needs of the past and present Spruces residents and we can also provide more affordable housing units in the community. The Spruces is the most viable solution but there are others that can meet even more need in the future, as well.