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Williamstown carrying out first comprehensive planning effort in 20 years

Cars drive on a road in a small New England town.
Josh Landes
Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Williamstown, Massachusetts is taking up a comprehensive planning project to help direct the town’s development for the first time in 20 years.

After decades without a master plan update, Williamstown officials say the new effort will both layout a roadmap to move forward as well as catch up to contemporary needs for the Northern Berkshire community.

“It's a great opportunity for us to reset and take stock of where we are and assess what our community's values are and how that's going to drive the development and land use patterns of the community going forward for the next 5, 10, 15, even 20 years," said Community Development Director Andrew Groff. “Our land use statute in Massachusetts is kind of old, it dates from the 1970s. And it has specific elements that are all very important, like transportation, housing is absolutely critical right now, the overall land use pattern. But we've also in this process, sought to include diversity and sustainability as additional elements that will really kind of tie our whole plan together, things that we think are essential to include now in the 2020s that I think people didn't really think about as much when our statute was written.”

Along with input from consultant group Resilience Planning and Design, Williamstown’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee says it will poll community members on how to develop the update.

“Currently in Williamstown, much of our zoning, for example, is based on large lot, single family houses are essentially what you can build in town at the moment. We may find out by talking to our community that they would prefer to have more rental units or townhouses or cluster development," said Committee co-chair Stephanie Boyd. “They may prefer to have a different type of housing option, and so then we could change our zoning to allow more of that type of housing to happen, or we could seek out funding to help pay for more affordable housing or subsidize more affordable housing.”

The town says the aforementioned themes of diversity and sustainability are central to the process.

“Sustainability, we can think about how housing and our energy usage and transportation and our energy usage impacts sustainability," said Groff. "And we can also think about how sustainability is impacted through our management of our natural resources in the community too. And similarly, for diversity and inclusion, I think we need to think overall about how we make Williamstown a more welcoming place for folks from all backgrounds- And housing and transportation come into play there as well.”

“People with different cultural backgrounds may wish to have different housing types. We certainly don't think sometimes on how our infrastructure may influence how people feel welcome," said Boyd. “Williams College is also doing a campus plan at the same time, and we've had some conversations with them. And they had noticed that some students, for example, don't feel welcome on Spring Street, because they think it has like only expensive stores and whatnot. So sometimes we just need to look at our communities through the lens of different people. And we certainly would like our community to be welcoming. So we will be reaching out to as many people from as many different backgrounds as we can to get their impressions of how this town affects them, and how they would like to see it in the future.”

Groff says the goal is to have the planning project wrapped by June 2023, the start of fiscal year 2024 for Williamstown.

“I think the plan is really going to come together in the winter," he told WAMC. "And the foundation for that is going to be the public outreach we're planning on for the summer, particularly because we really want to see people in person as much as possible, and I think the summertime, combined with outdoor events and where we are with the pandemic at this stage, that just makes the most sense.”

You can find out more about Williamstown’s comprehensive planning effort here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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