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Williamstown Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee to hold community information, input sessions

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

The Williamstown, Massachusetts Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee is holding two community meetings next Thursday. The gatherings, at 4 and 6 p.m. at the Williamstown Youth Center, will be an opportunity for town residents to learn more about the committee’s work to establish a path forward for Williamstown over the coming decades, as well as to formally lodge their own ideas about the process. Stephanie Boyd is chair of the Williamstown planning board and co-chair of the committee. She tells WAMC that the plan will touch all sectors of life in the Northern Berkshire community.

BOYD: So the last time we did a comprehensive plan was about 20 years ago. So, it really is a roadmap for how we as a community would like our town to unfold in the next decade or two, and it covers a number of key areas that are highlighted by the state of Massachusetts requires us to do this. And that could be housing and economic development, public facilities. But along with those required elements, Williamstown has chosen to look at these through two very important lenses, and that is sustainability and resilience, and diversity and equity. So, I think that's bringing a really interesting approach to our plan, and will really help bring us into the next decade or two.

WAMC: Now, at this point, the existing conditions analysis report and executive summary are available to folks to take a look at before the upcoming meeting on October 13th. What would you say are some of the big takeaways from that analysis report and that executive summary?

So, what the executive summary and the existing conditions analysis do is consolidate all of the studies that the town has done over the last several years. So, it's a really great reference point to understand where we are today in terms of the elements that we're looking at. Like, what's our transportation network? What cultural resources do we have? What is the state of our public facilities? So, I think it's a good background material for people to read before our session on October 13th. But it's not really a requirement. We really want to encourage people to come to our community session on October 13th with their views and desires of where Williamstown should go in the future.

So give us a sense of what this event is going to look like. What are folks going to experience when they go to these two sessions on the 13th to share their thoughts on the future of Williamstown?

It's really interactive session. So it's, there's not going to be anybody up at the front of the room, giving a big talk. We’ll have seven or eight workstation setup representing each one of these key functional areas- Land use, natural resources, transportation, etc. And there'll be a little bit of material there to help prompt some ideas, there'll be some maps, and then there'll be questions. So at each of these workstations, we'd love people to give us some feedback, some thoughts draw, on the map. So it's really an opportunity for people to begin thinking about the town and thinking about what they want, and then sharing those ideas with us.

Now, have you encountered any surprises so far in this process, anything from the committee's work that stood out to you and maybe defied your expectations going into this?

I think what's surprising to me is that we think we live in a fairly small, uncomplicated little town, but the breadth of the work that goes on in our town, the depth of experience that we have in our town administration, and as well as with the work that is done by volunteers is really quite astounding. And so I think we have some very complex issues that we're working on. And I believe those issues are getting more complicated and more expensive as we move into the future. And so we really have to figure out how do we come to a collective community vision, which is not easy to do.

What happens after this community information gathering session? How does that play into the larger timeframe for this project?

People can always email us and come to our regular monthly meetings, but this is our first session to really get out there and ask the public what do they want to see. That will be followed up in the coming months with some more ways for the community to be involved from online surveys or focus groups, one-on-one communication at various tabling events. So this will give us our first kind of big picture of what issues are in the minds of the community. And then we'll dig down deeper over the next several months to help formulate our future plan.

If you had a sort of an elevator pitch for why folks should go out of their way to participate in this process, what would it be?

Well, this is a great opportunity for people to shape their community to provide input to where money will be spent and how land will be used in the future. So, I think if you like living in Williamstown and you want it to be the community that you'd like to see in the future, come and tell us what that looks like.

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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