WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – Members of the Williamstown Planning Board were struggling on Tuesday to find an approach to saving a golf course in South Williamstown from a threatened shutdown by its owner, Michael Deep, by agreeing to Deep’s request to authorize building a “New England country-style inn” alongside. The Planning Board was scheduled to meet at town hall at 5 p.m. on Wednesday to try and find common ground.
Deep has declared that unless voters at the May 17 Town Meeting approve a zoning change for the 207-acre parcel – considered one of the most scenic in the state because of its view of the 3,491-foot Mount Greylock – he will close the 18-hole public golf course, which he says is losing money, and seek to build affordable housing on the parcel. On Monday, Town Planner Andrew Groff posted on the Planning Board website three options for zoning changes:
- OPTION ONE -- Characterized by Groff as supported by Deep, would permit a hotel of unlimited size to be built on a 10-acre parcel on U.S. Route 7 (New Ashford Road) immediately north of the current golf clubhouse. It appeared at last week’s Planning Board meeting to be supported by two board members, Amy Jeschawitz and D. Chris Winters. Deep and his attorney did not respond to email request for comment on Tuesday.
- OPTION TWO -- Also discussed at last week’s meeting, would place a square-foot restriction on the size of a hotel and golf buildings within a similar 10-acre parcel. At the April 28 meeting, size limits of from 50,000 to 75,000-square-feet were discussed. By comparison, The 49-room Orchards Inn is 50,000 square feet. There was no agreement at last week’s meeting on what figure to use. At last week’s meeting, the notion of limiting the square-footage appeared supported by three members of the planning board, Sarah Gardner, Ann K. McCallum and Elizabeth McGowan.
- OPTION THREE -- Drafted April 28 by board member Gardner. It sets a 50,000-square-foot cap on the size of all building on the Waubeeka site, but allows the size to grow up to 60,000 square feet if Deep agrees to put increasing amounts of land under a perpetual conservation restriction, barring any new building. Gardner said on Tuesday that her proposal was being last-minute reworked.
GUERNSEY BACKS GARDNER PLAN
Former state Rep. Sherwood Guernsey, an attorney who lives adjacent to the golf course, has been among a group of South Williamstown -- including some non-abutting town residents -- meeting and commenting on the Planning Board’s deliberations.
Guernsey emailed the group on Monday saying he felt the Gardner ssquare-foot-limitation option deserved their support. Guernsey wrote that limiting the gross floor area of buildings “is much more protective of a small Country Inn than acreage; if we give a developer 10 acres, he’ll fill it.” Guernsey also wrote that a hotel bigger than roughly the size of The Orchards “is hardly a reasonably sized country inn that would fit with the beauty of the value, a prized value for all Williamstown residents.”
Deep and his attorney, Stanley Parese, did not respond to email inquiries. A copy of the email inquires send by GreylockNews.com to them may be found at THIS LINK.
All three proposals include some form of conservation restriction on a 67-acre wooded parcel that is part of the Waubeeka, but not used for golf. Options one and two would allow Deep to build the hotel before restricting the 67 acres. The Gardner option would invoke the restriction when a special permit to begin construction is issued. There is also disagreement about whether trees could be cut to allow a solar-panel installation on the 67 acres.
There is also disagreement about whether the protected 67 acres should be governed by the town or a “qualified conservation organization” and whether it should be open to public recreation.
All three proposals define the hotel as including “guest units without kitchens,” implying that units could have multiple rooms and kitchen-like facilities within a room not called a kitchen. It is not clear whether such language would make such units attract for fractional ownership. At the April 28 meeting, Deep’s attorney said “timeshares” were no longer a part of his proposal.
WHAT IS INTENT?
A striking difference among the three proposals is their statement of intent. The Gardner proposal, as made public on Monday, says the zoning change – the “Waubeeka Overlay District” is “intended to preserve the existing golf course by allowing new income-producing uses on the property and allowing for open space.”
Indeed, it has been a focus of Deep’s advertising supporting his development bid that his desire is to preserve the golf course and the related jobs.
The other two proposals, including the one said by the town to be supported by Deep, declare the zoning change is to “permit and encourage redevelopment at the Waubeeka property” to preserve most of it as a community recreational and open-space asset that is consistent with the South Williamstown Historic District and is “encouraging the reuse and enhancement of an existing economic asset.” They do not mention preserving a golf course.
TOWN COUNSEL IN THE LOOP
Groff, the town planner, said on Tuesday that the town’s attorney has been reviewing and advising on various iterations of the zoning change, and “based on the guidance received from counsel I believe both staff requested drafts (Options 1 and 2) are legally sound documents.”