Lowry Position Statement

Acknowledgments:  The members of the Williamstown Agricultural Commission acknowledge that there is a need for more affordable housing in Williamstown and that displaced Spruces residents, post tropical storm Irene, who wish to remain in Williamstown should have the opportunity to do so at a cost comparable to that of living in the Spruces.  The Affordable Housing Committee has done an outstanding job of raising awareness of this issue.

Introduction:  This statement is in response to Williamstown’s and Morgan Management’s proposed hazard mitigation efforts seeking funding from FEMA and MEMA to purchase and clean up The Spruces residential park, move current residents out, and build new housing.  The prime site considered for new housing includes the town-owned Lowry and/or the Burbank properties.

Williamstown has a notable farming history and a farming future that we must preserve.  Farms provide multiple public benefits, including keeping land open which preserves the pastoral beauty and the rural character for which this town is known and for which Williamstown residents and visitors enjoy.

Williamstown is fortunate to have several commercially viable farms left and should do everything possible to help keep these farms in business while encouraging new farming ventures to secure the town’s agricultural future. 

Why Preserve Town-Owned Conservation Farmland: 

  • Williamstown residents have showed their support for agriculture and conserving farmland by creating the Agricultural Commission (Warrant Article 43) in 2008 and adopting the Right-to-Farm Bylaws (Chapter 46) at the 2006 Town Meeting. 
  • The arable land at the Spruces is already being farmed.  Developing the Lowry property for housing would result in a net loss of farmland for Williamstown.
  • The Lowry and Burbank Properties fulfill important roles by providing much-needed economic benefits to local farming operations such as a local source of hay and grain to feed their livestock and grow food for local consumption.
  • Prime agricultural soils, such as those on the Lowry and Burbank properties, are valuable and will become more valuable each year as farmland continues to decrease at the rate of one acre per minute, nationally.[1]
  • Farms are businesses that stimulate the local economy.  Berkshire County farms spend an average of $44,700 per year in the form of supplies, labor, and services.[2]
  • Farming trends in the Berkshires will likely show smaller farms producing locally distributed foods.  The average farm size in the county has declined from 380 acres in 1969 to 127 acres in 2007.[3]  Many new farmers make a living on smaller, intensively farmed parcels.  We believe that smaller farmland parcels such as the Lowry and Burbank properties will be in great demand by new farmers in the future.
  • High property prices and taxes and the high cost of doing business in Berkshire County make it increasingly difficult to obtain new farmland. 
  • The demand for local food is increasing, and the food system is gradually turning around as local groceries and farmers markets are being created.
  • The number of full-time farmers has significantly dwindled, and land in agriculture has steadily declined across the County.[4]  Yet, the rising cost of oil and long-distance food imports is causing food prices in supermarkets to skyrocket.  Oil industry and food system analysts recommend the development of local food production to ensure food security.  A strong agricultural land base provides the foundation of food security.
  • In terms of municipal expenditures, residential development creates a net financial loss to towns, because people and their vehicles require many town services.  In contrast, farmland, which uses fewer town services, is a net financial benefit.   This has been well documented by numerous cost-of-community-services studies.[5] 

Summary and Recommendations:

The Williamstown Agricultural Commission’s mission is to promote and support farming in Williamstown and to work for the preservation of agricultural lands which is critical to our farming future.  We believe that the two important goals -- increasing our town’s affordable housing stock and maintaining our town’s farmlands -- are compatible and are not in conflict with each other.  We fully support the development of affordable housing on vacant sites in the town center, and we encourage the Affordable Housing Commission, The Affordable Housing Trust, the Town Manager, and the Selectmen to commit their energy and town resources on developing properties that are not being used for agriculture.

Governor Patrick has implemented guidelines for the Commonwealth’s Compact Housing Initiative, to build “10,000 new multifamily units each year… that is reasonably dense and located near transit stations, employment, and downtown centers.”  The Commonwealth’s program clearly explains why affordable housing should be built in town centers and how it is best for the residents.  Williamstown is fortunate to have several municipally-owned and privately-owned vacant building sites near the Town center, the development of which would bring economic benefits, remove blight, and conform to the Governor’s guidelines, thereby making the development of these properties eligible for preferential state funding.   These sites include the town-owned Photech property and the Old Town Garage site, and several private properties.

It is the position of the Williamstown Agricultural Commission that prime agricultural land should be considered for development only as a last resort, after all other options have been implemented to their fullest potential. 

Approved by:

Beth Phelps

Rich Haley

Lisa DeMayo

Topher Sabot

[1] American Farmland Trust

[2] Census of Agriculture

[3] Census of Agriculture

[4] In 1969 there were 80,730 acres in agriculture countywide (13% of the total land base); in 2007 there were 66,352 acres in agriculture, or 11% of the land base. (Census of Agriculture)

[5] Farmland Information Center

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