Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg Co-Chairing Budget Coordinating Group Thursday morning
Amherst finance guru Andy Steinberg addressed the two town meeting warrant articles calling for many millions of dollars in spending for the eminent domain taking of two properties in town and his brief comment Thursday morning could fit on their tombstone: "It's hard to imagine how these things are feasible."
But where was he 25 years ago when the town spent the most money in history for an eminent domain taking: Cherry Hill Golf Course @ $2.2 million, simply to satisfy 100 NIMBYs in North Amherst.
But yes, two wrongs do not make a right, and at least maybe town officials learned something from the Cherry Hill debacle ... maybe. The taking of W.D. Cowls property in the bucolic Cushman section of North Amherst would cost many times more than the $1.2 million that appears in the warrant article.
Since Cinda Jones has an offer of $6.6 million on the table from a serious developer who wishes to construct high end student housing, that is how much it would cost the town to take it. 6.6 million. Dollars. A UFO piloted by Elvis landing in town center on the 4th of July is f-a-r more likely to happen.
The taking of Echo Village, which would cost close to $3 million, has a far better shot with Amherst Town Meeting, as the impacted residents who are being evicted will generate far more sympathy than the well off white people from North Amherst.
And the new Echo Village owner, Jamie Cherewatti, is not overly popular with neighborhood groups all over Amherst. At the Housing & Sheltering Committee meeting yesterday, where about-to-be-evicted tenants presented their case to the committee, Town Meeting member Paige Wilder chimed in, "Jamie Cherewatti owns four houses in my neighborhood that are all party houses."
Social activists Vince O'Connor and Kevin Noonan also spoke in behalf of the tenants urging the committee to support their article for an eminent domain article. O'Connor pointed out if the town used Community Preservation Act money to fund some of the taking it would place an affordable housing restriction on the deed.
Peter Jessop, Chair Amherst Community Preservation Act Committee
The CPAC did vote on Thursday night to support an emergency appropriation of $15,000 to help the tenants with relocation. Apparently the former owner, Jerry Gates, was a tad more benevolent than the new owner and did not require first and last month's rent for new tenants so now there's no savings to rely on for getting a new apartment where that is required.
But if Town Meeting should override CPAC committee recommendations and use money towards the outright purchase then the 24 units of housing would count towards the town's affordable housing stock, currently at 10.8%. Now in danger of falling below 10% and opening the town up to a Ch40B development.
Echo Village Tenant Tracylee Boutilier addresses Housing & Sheltering Committee
Either way, with the Residential Rental Property Bylaw bringing a game changing permit system to town also on the warrant, Amherst Town Meeting should be more interesting than a night of network reality TV.
I can't wait.