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Williamstown to address proposed re-zoning project, more at annual town meeting Tuesday — unless adjournment movement pushes it to June

People in a row of bleacher seats hold up cards that say "yes"
Josh Landes
Voters at the Williamstown, Massachusetts annual town meeting on June 9th, 2021.

Williamstown, Massachusetts is scheduled to hold its annual town meeting Tuesday night at Williamstown Elementary School. The warrant includes a proposed major new re-zoning initiative, as well as dropping requirements for the town manager role that some say are inhibiting the town’s ability to attract candidates. Williamstown just hired its first full-time town manager since Jason Hoch resigned last spring. Robert Menicocci starts in July.

But the meeting might not even happen. This afternoon, Select board chair Andy Hogeland gave WAMC a preview, and explained a possible vote to adjourn the meeting until June:

HOGELAND: I think the topic of conversation which so far had been most controversial involve a series of proposals by the planning board to do some significant rezoning a different parts of the town. It's been the topic of many hours of conversation within and among the members of the planning board and the public for several months. And it seems to be the driving issue for this year's town meeting. It's not the only important issue, but it seems to be at the top of the list. There are others which I think also deserve attention.

WAMC: And what are some of those?

I believe that the town has had difficulties attracting candidates to the town manager because of some very old provisions in the town charter. And these provisions require the town manager to be a resident and to not have been in recent public service in the town, and that has inhibited the ability of the select board to get good candidates, or as many as they want. So in order to broaden the pool of town major candidates, we'd like to amend the shorter to remove those restrictions. So that's on the warrants as well.

What else should we expect from this year's town meeting? Are there other issues that you think the community of Williamstown will want to address this year?

There are numerous sort of repeating issues in terms of the town budget, but I’m sure there's much controversy in the budget this year. There are several proposals to grant money under the Community Preservation Act to different organizations in town as well as some other non-CPA funding requests. There are two suggestions that maybe we increase the number of liquor licenses in town. And that's about it, I think, that I can remember at the time

Now, let's talk about possible adjournment. Can you sort of break down why some folks in town would rather see the town meeting take place next month?

We’ve gotten a significant number of concerns about the COVID risks of going into an indoor town meeting in the elementary school gymnasium. The meeting was set over a month ago. People are concerned about this. So there is a lot of interest in trying to adjourn it. What I had just done, literally, without you knowing it, 45 minutes ago, was a send out a memo under my own name, not as select board chair, but just as a citizen going to town meeting, proposing that if people want to adjourn town meeting, here's a path to do it. And I outline a different time, a different place and give people my preferences on if we decide to move, when and where we should do it. The proposal would be moving into June 14th at the high school gym which is much larger, but that's just a motion I’ll make. I have no idea if people are going second it or vote for it. It was designed to just address the public interest in having an alternative to having everything happen at the elementary school Tuesday night.

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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