Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fast tracking an expensive project

Hawthorne from the middle of the meadow looking towards E. Pleasant St (barns in red)

Since the People's Republic of Amherst never met a conservation land deal it could hike away from, the $500,000 Hawthorn Farm purchase of 6.76 acres (40% of it unbuildable wetlands) not far from town center for community housing, open space and recreation breezed through Town Meeting by unanimous vote last spring.

The construction of soccer fields, however, rather than conserving open space (preventing a theoretical 4 to 6 houses) or "community"--Orwellian for affordable--housing was the main reason for the purchase; and that now brings another potent lobby group to enter the fray: soccer parents, who presumably drive mini vans and actually vote in local elections--the favorite demographic of the Amherst center.

Ah, but then an ironic bee came buzz bombing into the ointment. The town's own Historical Commission failed to march in lockstep and recently voted to enact a one-year demolition delay on the 150-year-old house and larger barn, which have provided a pleasing curb view along East Pleasant street for many generations.

The one year demolition delay bylaw to protect historic structures was only enacted by Town Meeting five years ago and was of course mainly designed as an anti-development device against those evil private developers.

As can be expected, the immediate neighbors are unhappy about the increased traffic that will surely result from soccer field(s), and perhaps more important the tree hugging, ground kissing farm preservationists are not to keen seeing another New England farm permanently plowed under . Throw in some landscape design/architectural academic types and this is shaping up to be a PC battle royal better than a schoolyard rumble between the Sharks and the Jets.
This 100-year-old row of quaint New England sugar maples are now on Death Row. Ironically, Stan Ziomek only recently retired as Amherst's Tree Warden, a position he held for 38 years.

Fiscal conservatives will also become aroused (admittedly a distinct minority in town) when construction costs for the soccer field commence--which will start out expensive and work its way up, like most municipal construction projects.

Considering the town spent $750,000 to develop the Potwine Lane fields, constructed from a parcel of land that already looked like a soccer field, it's hard to imagine the costs to tame the wild rolling topography at Hawthorne.

But soccer aficionados will no doubt rely on Community Preservation Act money, which Town Meeting squanders like manna falling from the heavens. The $500,000 purchase price, naturally, was appropriated from CPA funds and leveraged to the max by borrowing the amount and repaying over ten years.

And of course Stan Ziomek, chair of the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (fancy name for a Rec Department) commission chair is the ultimate Amherst 'Don' of all things recreational--especially baseball. Stan is also a former acting Amherst Town Manager and also currently vice chair of--you guessed it--the Community Preservation Act Committee.

Does not hurt that his son Dave Ziomek is the Director of the Conservation Department. And according to minutes of the 3/19/10 CPA meeting: "Dave said that staff has proposed all along that this property be used for active recreation. It has been vetted by the Conservation Commission, the Agricultural Commission, and staff. He is not interested in a public process to vet different ideas because this property has been studied extremely well."

As in to Hell with the general public, I'm here from the government and we know best.

At the 2/4/10 CPA meeting the committee heard testimony that "The land would need significant grading and filling to create level fields." And the committee was also told the farmhouse--the one town officials now want to vaporize--was "structurally sound."

At that meeting the total "appraised value" of the property was pegged at $415,000--yet the town's assessor valued it at only $306,100. A second appraisal came back at $500,000 and six weeks later according to April 1st (no foolin!) CPA minutes "The new figure would help the negotiations with the owner be more successful."

And amazingly, LSSE director Linda Chalfant in no doubt bruising negotiations with the owner managed to land the deal at--you guessed it--$500,000. A lot to pay in a year when the real estate market was particularly frigid.

Only in Amherst would town officials be happy to spend W-A-Y more than assessed value to expand their empire at taxpayer expense. And that is only the beginning...

The other open area (except for pricker bushes) to the rear of the barns
Easternmost portion

From the barn looking towards the meadow

Centrally located for sure. Wildwood school on right.


Anonymous said...

Looks like your child was getting a little hot from all the walking around with you, Larry...

I had no idea the town was so messed up. Keep up the great work!

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, she's at the age where she burns a lot hotter than I do.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they can have a pretend soccer field like the pretend farm that Mr. Greenjeans used to run.

Anonymous said...

Isn't everything pretend in Amherst?

Anonymous said...

if the town wants more affordable housing, why would they knock down a "structurally sound" house?

Anonymous said...

Amherst doesn't need more soccer fields, it needs to better maintain the ones we already have.