by Stephen Dravis
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The panel charged with developing a plan for the former Spruces Mobile Home Park property decided last week to aim for modest improvements at the town-owned site in 2017.
The Spruces Land Use Committee heard a presentation from local engineering firm Guntlow & Associates about what amenities could be installed at the site and speculation about how much the improvements might cost.
The committee previously had identified a desire by town residents to use the Main Street parcel for playing fields, an outdoor pavilion, a walking/bicycle loop and space for events like the town’s farmers market.
Last year at annual town meeting, voters approved $41,500 of Community Preservation Act funds to do wetlands delineation and conceptual design work at the site. The last residents of the flood-prone park moved out earlier this year, and the town took possession of the now vacant property under terms of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
Any improvements at the parcel must comply with FEMA regulations, which state that the land must be kept in a natural state.
On Thursday, the committee agreed that some of the more costly improvements will need to be phased in over time. An enclosed restroom with two ADA-compliant unisex stalls, for example, could cost in the neighborhood of $55,000. A parking lot for 50 cars could run around $30,000. The open-air pavilion — a wall-less structure that would not interfere with the flood plain — was penciled in the budget at about $85,000.
Earlier this year, the Community Preservation Committee decided that it intends to distribute about $170,000 for all of the qualified projects that apply for CPA funds in this funding cycle. Although the CPC expects to have about $311,000 at its disposal, the members of that committee want to carry at least $140,000 forward in a reserve
With that as a backdrop, the Spruces group began Thursday to discuss how large an application it would like to submit to the CPC, which has a deadline of Dec. 17.
Committee member Andrew Hogeland pointed out that at least one of the improvements the committee has in mind will be dealt with by the the Department of Transportation’s expansion of the Mohawk Bike Trail/Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, part of which is scheduled to go through the Spruces property.
“If the parking is there from DOT, a modest program for us that sounds achievable is signage, picnic tables and work with DPW to mow the paths in a certain way,” Hogeland said. “And picnic tables and signage you can get McCann Tech [School] to build.”
To that list, the committee added the notion of seeking funds for the removal of some of the trees to make the land better suited to recreation.
The signage would indicate that it is a public area intended for recreation, talk about the town’s aspirations for the park and honor the memory of the mobile home community once located on the property.
Committee members said signage could help make the property more inviting and encourage passive recreation like picnics and hiking and build momentum for future development of the park — either with town funds or fund-raising.
“I think donors are a likely thing,” Hogeland said.
“There will be numerous naming opportunities,” Nicholas Wright pointed out.
The committee agreed to meet again on Nov. 29 to discuss the specific amount of its application to the CPC.
In other business on Thursday, the committee revisited the idea of using portions of the Spruces property for food production.
Wright reported that he had received positive results from soil tests on the land, which indicate nothing alarming in the way of heavy metals or polychorinated biphenyls.
“We know we’re not sitting on a toxic waste site here now,” Wright said.
On the other hand, Wright said his conversations with farmers indicate that the three to four acres that might be available probably would not be enough to entice small farmers to work the property.
That said, Wright does believe part of the land has potential as a small orchard, and he received colleagues’ permission to pursue that idea with orchardists and landscapers.
Wright said an orchardist might be able to put several hundred semi-dwarf fruit trees on three acres.
“I think agriculture is going to stay important, particularly in view of possible climate change,” Wright said. “That whole agricultural use down there could be a resource for the town at some point.”