WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The Planning Board is poised to recommend next week that voters approve a zoning change that would allow a 60,000-70,000 square foot “country inn” resort alongside the Waubeeka Golf Links. The developer withheld a decision on whether to agree to the building size limitation.
There would be no specific number of guest units or rooms in the zoning revision, under the plan favored by three of five board members – Sarah Gardner, Elizabeth McGowan and Ann K. McCallum – leaving it up to a developer the interior layout and uses within the total square footage.
After hearing the developer’s attorney, public testimony and discussing among themselves for more than two hours, the five-member board found itself lacking unanimity on whether to either specify a square-foot size limit on the building, or set a limitation of 10 acres on the total footprint of resort and golf-course buildings.
So they instructed Town Planner Andrew Groff to come up with two documents – one taking each approach -- and scheduled a meeting for Wed., May 4, at 5 p.m. at Town Hall to decided one way or the other.
By the end of Thursday night’s meeting, it appeared three three members of the board were ready to go with a square-foot limitation and the other two –D. Chris Winters and Amy C. Jeschawitz -- were uncommitted. Whether it will be 60,000 or 70,000 square feet or even 75,000 square feet -- appeared still a matter of discussion.
The board is working toward a vote on whether to recommend adoption an amendment to an article on the May 17 Town Meeting warrant. The amendment would replace the language in a Citizens Petition placed on the meeting warrant by supporters of developer Michael Deep.
DEEP ACCEPTS 67-ACRE CONSERVATION RESTRICTION
Deep’s attorney, Stan Parese, appeared to surprise the board and some audience members when he announced during an introductory presentation that Deep was prepared to commit to putting a permanent conservation restriction on 67 acres of the 207-acre golf-course property, which sits in a valley cited as one of the most scenic in the state. The 67 acres is presently wet and wooded.
The decision was praised by a number of speakers, including botanist Pamela B. Weatherbee, who owns an adjacent parcel. “I find the idea of a conservation restriction for the 67 acres very, very attractive because it is with other protected lands,” said Weatherbee. She called the 67-acre parcel “very unusual, with many springs.”
Parese said Deep would like the conservation restriction to permit development of a well and underwater thermal heating resources as well as electricity-generating solar panels if possible. Some speakers expressed concern about having to cut trees – which sequester carbon dioxide – to install solar panels. Weatherbee said solar might not be compatible with a conservation restriction. Parese said if that turned out to be the case, Deep would still go along with the restriction.
There were these additional highlights at the meeting:
- Selectman Hugh Daley, in testimony, urged the Planning Board not to be fixed on requiring a conservation restriction on more than 67 acres in exchange for supporting the hotel zoning -- given that Deep was agreeing to not develop homes on the golf course.
- Parese said the Deep was willing to limit the development footprint to 10 acres. He said he would have to consult his client’s architect – David Westall – to determine if they felt an overall size limit of 60,000-70,000 square feet was economically feasible. By comparison, the current 128-room Williams Inn is about 70,000 square feet and the 49-room Orchards Inn is about 49,000 square feet. Williams College’s proposed inn at the foot of Spring Street is planned as 60 rooms and 49,575 square feet.
- Parese also said the developer had abandoned language that would have specified application of the state’s timeshare development law to the project. “So everybody who’s been saying a 40-acre, timeshare resort – it’s gone,” Parese said.
- Presently, Waubeeka is in a 2.5-acre residential zoning district. If votes approve the hotel overlay district, Parese said “my client is in for a long ride, he’s losing money all the way, but he’s willing to see it through” to starting of construction estimated in 2020 after lining up development partners, design, zoning and planning final approvals and financing.
- Numerous speakers, both public and among the board, declared support for the objective of creating a development opportunity that could sustain the 18-hole public golf course that has been in operation for a half century. “And it would be beneficial to the town to have some increased employment and taxes,” said Sherwood Guernsey, an attorney and former state representative who’s home abuts the golf course. He said the challenge was to find a balance between fostering economic development and not threatening too much open space.
- Both Guernsey and public speaker Foster Goodrich asserted “frustration” that some advertisements placed by Deep citing tax and other economic benefits of the proposed project appeared to them to be inflated. Parese said he was confident in the numbers and said they could be made more accurate once the details of the project are clearer.