Proposal would trade open space for hotel building rights
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Town officials are pitching in to help draft a zoning change which would permit a developer to put a "country inn" in South Williamstown -- on a parcel considered one of the most scenic in Massachusetts because of its views of the 3,492-foot Mount Greylock.
Developer Michael Deep and his supporters say the inn could save a money-losing 18-hole public golf course from being closed and turned into house lots. They say it will produce jobs and taxes for the town. Neighbors and some other opponents say Deep's proposals to date are too vague, too large and run counter to the town's master plan calling for preserving open space.
"Views from the Route 7 corridor in South Williamstown are recognized as among the finest in Massachusetts," Thomas Por, northwest/northern Berkshires manager for the Trustees of Reservations wrote in a letter to the editor published April 12 by The Berkshire Eagle, adding: "A 1982 Massachusetts inventory gave this scenic landscape an A."
On Monday, Town Manager Jason Hoch made public a proposal that will be submitted to the Williamstown Planning Board for consideration at an upcoming meeting. The proposal is designed to replace a Town Meeting warrant article backed by Deep and 20 citizens to develop up to 40 acres of the 207-acre Waubeeka Golf links with a timeshare lodging resort of undetermined size. "It reflects an amalgamation of the Planning Board's original work, the petitioner's [Mike Deep's] draft, and subsequent input from both the petitioner and concerned residents, reflecting through the prims of our own professional experience," Hoch wrote in an email accompanying the proposal. Also on Monday, selectmen tabled their consideration of the Deep bylaw proposal as originally submitted.
Hoch wrote that he hopes the proposal would be a "refreshed jumping off point for the Planning Board and interested parties to consider at public meetings" between now and Town Meeting on May 17. At Town Meeting, voters will have the opportunity to consider or table Deep supporters' original petition, or amend it with language from Hoch's proposal or elsewhere.
Hoch's proposal, drafted with the help of Town Planner Andrew Groff and at least one Planning Board member, proposes granting zoning rights for a "country inn" of up to three stories and not more than 50,000 square feet in size -- a restriction that suggests a facility in the 60-80-room size. However, if Deep or a future developer seeks permission to construct a facility of that size, they would be required to agree to put all but 20 acres of the golf-course property under a permanent deed restriction limiting its use to open-space recreation (including golf) or agriculture under the control of the town or an organization such as the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. Also, the land would have to be freely open to the public for passive recreational use.
If a country inn of 20,000 or more square feet was build, a minimum of 67 acres would have to be put under a conservation restriction. For each one-thousand square feet of additional construction, another four acres would have to be added to conservation. In addition, the town manager's draft eliminates any reference to the "timeshare" form of ownership.
In addition, a developer of a country inn would have to forever extinguish any right to build single-family homes on the property.
The proposal defines a country inn as "an establishment where overnight transient sleeping accommodations are provided to lodgers in one or more guest units without kitchens." It continues: "Country inns ahve common sitting and dining areas and may include a restaurant which may be open to the general public." It says a country inn may include a swimming pool, hiking trails and recreational facilities and "areas to accommodate social evens or gatherings, e.g., conferences and weddings."
Hoch's proposal comes as citizens continue to comment on Deep's original proposal in letters to the editor, on social media and in other forms. On Monday, Tela Zasloff, editor of The Greylock Independent newsletter and website emailed to selectmen an analysis of Deep's proposal by Foster Goodrich, president of School Guard Glass, Inc., of Adams, and a Bennington, Vt., resident who grew up in Williamstown. Goodrich says he has been directly involved with over $5 billion worth of vertical construction projects across the country as a builder and developer.
UPDATED: 11:22 a.m., Tues. April 12 to correct that only if the sum of site buildings exeeds 20,000 square feet would the requirement to set aside 67 acres into conservation be triggered.