On July 11, I made a presentation to the Williamstown Conservation Commission on the question of whether the Conservation Commission should release the Lowry and Burbank sites from conservation, for building housing. My major argument is that the Conservation Commission should not release these sites, for the reasons given below. The documents referenced in parentheses are all available for viewing on the "Williamstown, Our Heritage" website at williamstownourheritage.net.
Conservation designation on these
two sites is a valuable asset to the Town.
* These sites are invaluable, irreplaceable farm land, that maintains the local businesses of farmers, who fulfill our public health and area economic needs to grow, eat and sell our food locally.
(Agricultural Commission, Williamstown. "Development of Town Conservation and Agricultural Lands." 2.7.2013)
* These sites provide the beauty of unobstructed mountain views, and the space, wildlife and clean air that we need to maintain a healthy quality of life, including as observers of and walkers through Nature. They are available to the whole town and are a rare treasure of in-town open space, in one of the most densely populated areas of Williamstown.
("Open Space and Recreation Plan for Williamstown, Lands of Conservation and Recreation Interest; Preserving Scenic and Rural Character [Stratton, Blair and Luce Road areas]," Williams College, 2005; "Management Plans for Williamstown, MA, Conservation Commission Lands," Williams College, 1998, 2009, 2013; Priscilla Northup and Carolyn Henderson "Personal Notes;" Henry David Thoreau, "Journal entries;" William O. Douglas, Sierra Club vs. Morton.)
* The Town has voted several times in Town Meetings in favor of protecting these properties under conservation, under the "care, custody and management and control" of the Conservation Commission. In 1987 the Town voted 77.1 percent in favor, and in 2003, the Town voted against funding a feasibility study for building housing on these sites. These two sites are the only in-town open space, farmland sites owned by the town, thus the only open space sites in the control of town residents.
(Minutes, 1987 Town Meeting; "Lowry and Burbank Placed under Conservation Commission Custody;" Lowry Farm: Preserving its past, protecting its future.)
* These properties, as open, partly forested, agricultural land, shield the surrounding areas from flooding and erosion.
("Open Space and Recreation Plan for Williamstown;" Environmental Setting and Analysis;" "Maps: zoning, open lands, soils." Williams College, 2005)
* Costs to the Town: Conserving these properties as open, agricultural land has a positive effect on a town's finances because, unlike residential, commercial and industrial land uses, they do not cost money for services and they generate more public revenues than they receive back in public services.
("Cost of Community Services Study for Williamstown," Williams College, 2004; "American Farmland Trust/COCS studies.")
There are a number of more
practical, appropriate and less costly alternatives available in town for building affordable housing, and there is no overriding public benefit in release of conservation restrictions on Lowry/Burbank.
* Smart town planning protects the integrity of its natural resources and all the benefits that the public obtains from that protection. Such planning simultaneously provides housing in a financially and ecologically responsible manner and benefits all town residents. Therefore, Smart Growth town planning, under principles laid out by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), dictate that in-town, affordable housing be built on sites already established for building, with all the necessary infrastructure already in place, at the town center. The Town committees considering building affordable housing are already looking at such sites: PhoTech; the former Town Garage site, Water Street; the former Cable Mills Property; the college-donated property next to Proprietors Fields. The Photech and former Cable Mills sites are now standing empty, in a state of deterioration, and plans to develop both of those have already been proposed.
("Smart Growth and Affordable Housing Planning," Sarah Gardner and Ann McCallum talk, 5.15.2013; "Sustainable Development Principles," DHCD; "Building Plans for Affordable Housing," McCallum and Burr. PhoTech, Water Street and former Cable Mills sites; Ann McCallum, "Design starts with a strong connection with the site," "Personal Notes"; Tom Jorling letter, April, 8 2013, "Conservation Land and Affordable Housing.")
* Comparative building costs: When the cost of building on Lowry, a site the Affordable Housing Committee/Trust are considering, is compared to the costs of building on the PhoTech, Water Street, and Cable Mills sites - factoring in removal from conservation, length of access road, proposed number of units, areas of impervious surfaces, infrastructure cost (total and per unit), and building construction - use of Lowry would cost about one-and-a-half times as much per unit, and almost $2 million more in total development cost.
(Cost Comparison between Building on Lowry/Conservation Farm Land and Building on In-town Sites. Robert Scerbo, Real Estate Developer. 2013)
* Funding for affordable housing: The State of Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development provides funding support for building affordable housing in town, following the Smart Growth principles laid out by the DHCD mentioned above, including building on in-town properties already established as building sites. The single most important state funding resource is the 2013 Qualified Allocation Plan, enabling building planners to apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
("DHCD guide. Low-Income Housing Tax Credits;" "MA Funding projects, 2012-2013;" "Section 8 Vouchers: Effect of Sequestration;" "Boston Housing Report Card, 2012;" "MA Toolbox: Strategies and Best Practices, Center for Housing Policy." "How to Write an RFP.")