Friday November 16, 2012

PHIL DEMERS

North Adams Transcript

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The town is seeking a roughly $6.25 million federal grant to purchase The Spruces Mobile Home Park, demolish the current park and relocate its current residents to new, permanent replacement housing, Town Manager Peter Fohlin recently announced.

The 30-acre Lowry property off Stratton Road -- Fohlin first explained to a "well-attended" meeting of Spruces residents Tuesday afternoon and next to Selectmen that evening -- will be the site of the new park if the grant is awarded.

Available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the grant represents a "wonderful opportunity for the town" Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) Chair Catherine Yamamoto said Wednesday.

"We on [the committee] are really hoping this comes through," Yamamoto said, and thanked Fohlin and other officials for their "behind the scenes work" over the 14 months since Tropical Storm Irene wrought major destruction at The Spruces.

The town has submitted its application, Fohlin said, adding that Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley are "aware" of its intentions and that a response could come within 60 days.

Officials were made aware of the grant while working with FEMA in the wake of Irene and have "relentlessly" pursued the opportunity since then, Yamamoto said.


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The town’s proposal details $3,000,000 of the sum going toward the construction of permanent replacement housing for residents at the site near Stratton Road; $1,485,000 in relocation costs to the owner-occupants of the 66 homes that have been re-inhabited since Irene; $1,200,000 for the demolition and cleanup of the park; and $600,000 to Spruces owner Morgan Management for the purchase of the park. The company has agreed to the terms.

The current 114-acre Spruces site, according to the proposal, would be set aside for agriculture, recreation, sports fields and conservation. The Lowry property is subject to a conservation restriction, but officials think these intended uses for the current Spruces site present a more than equal exchange.

Fohlin said Tuesday that residents of the park responded well to the proposal.

"The information was well received with great interest and some understandable apprehension," Fohlin said.

Fohlin intends to hold a follow-up meeting with residents in early December, as plans develop.

The Spruces’ current location, off Route 2 along the Hoosic River, rests entirely within a 100-year floodplain, leading officials to seek an alternative site or face continual flooding, recent weather trends indicate. Early this month, Hurricane Sandy’s forecast prompted town officials to establish a shelter and meet with park residents to discuss evacuation plans.

Since Irene, only 66 of the park’s former 225 homes have been cleared for occupancy by the town, with the remaining 159 having either been demolished or rendered uninhabitable.

According to Susan Puddester of Higher Ground, a community organization that formed in Irene’s wake to help create more in-town affordable housing, 103 people have returned to the park since Irene, 50 remain displaced and others have moved on to different living situations. The park’s pre-Irene population was 272.

"We are hearing from lots of folks that they really want to be back in Williamstown," Puddester said.

Puddester, Higher Ground’s case management supervisor and a member of the town’s disaster replacement housing committee, called Tuesday’s proposal a "great" step and pledged that her organization would continue efforts to provide "as many options as possible" for in-town affordable housing.

Yamamoto expressed similar feelings, saying that the grant would address "only part of a very large problem" and that AHC plans to continue looking for more potential affordable housing sites in town.