WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A deeply divided planning council on Tuesday recommended that next month’s annual city meeting pass the most controversial zoning bylaw amendment the council has produced this cycle.
In a 3-2 vote that followed the same breakdown as previous votes on the subject, the board argued for passage of what is now known as Section 45 on the Assembly Mandate. municipal.
The law, if passed, would reduce the sizes of residential lots in the city’s Rural Residence Zoning District 2 by the same amount that a similar item, No. 44, would in the Residence District. general.
RR2 would still require significantly more square footage, frontage and setbacks than the rules that govern the more populated GR zoning district. But each would see a one-third across-the-board reduction in dimensional requirements if both articles were passed by the May 17 town hall.
Proponents argue that by reducing dimensional requirements, the city’s zoning bylaw would be less exclusive, more housing could be developed, and the city would be more welcoming to a wider range of residents, thus fulfilling the intent of a mandate of diversity, equity and inclusion. Adopted overwhelmingly by the 2020 Town Meeting.
Critics say allowing higher-density housing across the city without imposing affordability requirements won’t result in cheaper housing. Rather, they say, it would destroy existing neighborhoods and only help developers, not the more diverse population meant to benefit from Section 37 of the 2020 town meeting mandate.
In the case of RR2, even residents who support higher density housing in the city’s central neighborhoods say that increased housing opportunities in rural parts of the city will lead to sprawl, increase pressures for development that is already pushing back family farms and harming the environment.
Carin Demayo-Wall, who is on the ballot for a seat on the Planning Council in the May 10 annual municipal elections, said Section 45 would actually help farmers like her.
“There are a lot of people in the city who don’t have a choice to live in what is considered rural,” Demayo-Wall said. “They are stuck in housing that we feel they should live in and that we feel they are allowed to be part of. We limit our people in Williamstown to where we think they should live, how they should live.
“I really struggle to see how we see [Article 45] also offensive when I look at it from the perspective of growing up on a farm. If I had to sell to keep my farm viable, and farming is what keeps things open – it’s farming in this town. It is not the privileged who build their mansions on their 2 1/2 acres. …I don’t see how that hurts [environment] when me, as a farmer, I could sell a very small part of my land to remain viable and stay in my town where I grew up.
“We need to be able to stay here, and we’ve been kicked out of our town.”
She thanked the City Planning Board for proposing bylaw changes that would make the city less exclusive.
Other residents argued that the Planning Board had not been thoughtful or respectful of natural resources in proposing Section 45 or Section 46, which would remove a preference in the by-law against a development that would require the builder , at its own expense, to extend municipal water and sewer.
“What I don’t want is to see our city become so developed with so much sprawl where the environment is just an externality, it doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter,” Wendy said. Penner. “One of the things I’ve always loved and appreciated about the character of the city is the feeling of trying to respect our sensitive systems and resources.
“That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should be looking for potential areas to develop housing in RR2. It does mean that I think rezoning all rural residence is a bad idea.”
The council has been repeatedly encouraged to wait until next year, when the city hopes to put a comprehensive new plan in place, before proposing changes to the zoning bylaw.
Rhon Ernest-Jones, director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing.
“I can’t represent that’s the position of Rural Lands, but it goes against what we try to do at Rural Lands in terms of preserving the beauty, the agricultural potential of open spaces,” said said Ernest Jones. “To very arbitrarily present a series of criteria on the table that will allow more intensive development simply seems totally unnecessary, completely in the face of the overall plan that is under consideration.
“We strongly oppose it.”
Planning Board members Stephanie Boyd and Roger Lawrence each voted in the 3-2 minority to recommend that Sections 45 and 46 be passed by the town meeting.
Council heard Tuesday that the city attorney, who is advising the moderator on meeting procedures, advised that while the General Residence zoning change can be accomplished by a simple majority vote of the meeting of the city, a similar change in RR2 would require the kind of two-thirds “super majority” that zoning changes have typically required in the past.
Indeed, although state law now allows the lower bar of a simple majority vote on zoning changes intended to promote housing opportunity, this change in law is intended to apply to areas that have the municipal infrastructure to support higher populations.
Either way, the city would be breaking new ground if it passed Section 44 by a simple majority, Community Development Manager Andrew Groff told the planning board. And, if so, Williamstown won’t really know if the zoning change is permissible under last year’s amendment to Commonwealth zoning law until the change is reviewed by the office. of the Attorney General this summer.
Groff said city attorney Joel Bard is recommending moderators’ counts and recording any votes on Section 44 in case it passes a two-thirds majority anyway. Having the total votes would allow the affirmative vote of the municipal assembly to take effect even if the AGO feels that more than a simple majority is required.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the state Department of Housing and Community Development for an advisory opinion on the voting threshold issue. This advisory opinion, which, according to the DHCD, would be available in 30 days, would, like the opinion of the municipal council, be non-binding.
“The final decision would come from the attorney general’s office or, in the worst case, if there was a dispute, the land court,” Groff said.