Thursday, May 23, 2013

Private Interest, Public Money

 Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst.  Tiffany location now boarded up

I can't remember the last time going into a night of Town Meeting not knowing how I was going to vote on any particular article.  Last night there were two such articles -- both dealing with historical preservation -- and I'm not overly confident either of my votes will turn out right.

The Tiffany Window inside the Unitarian Church -- even in its tired state -- is an absolute thing of beauty.  When viewed from inside the church looking out.  But when looking from the outside in, not so hot.  And $106,000 of public money is a LOT of money.

Angel of the Lillies Tiffany Window from the inside

I also wonder why St Brigid's Church directly across the street can manage to do historical capital projects without asking for town tax money.  

St Brigid's Church this morning

And there is the matter of them whacking the 100+ year old healthy pin oak for the convenience of their expansion.  Sure they grudgingly made an effort (that probably cost less than $3,000) to see if the towering tree could be saved.

Town took down unhealthy Pin Oak near telephone pole

If someone from the town had said a long time ago that you can do your expansion only if the tree survives, you can bet they would have come up with a plan that saved the tree.  And if that plan and change in construction cost an extra $100,000 they would still be $6,000 to the good.

Because now the town is partners in their construction project anyway, to the tune of $106,000 to save the Tiffany.
Health Pin Oak (center) coming down soon

So I voted "No."  Next year after the Tiffany goes back into the wall facing North Pleasant Street, one summer night around 7:00 p.m. I'll take a look and then decide if it was worth it.

Ashes to ashes, towering tree to large stump

On the other ancient hand I voted "Yes" to Article #36, a zoning change for historic lots on Main Street just below the even more historic Hills House, thus increasing its value to a private landowner, who is also a Town Meeting member.

The measure passed -- but just barely -- by the required two thirds majority 120-55.  And I say just barely because I almost voted no and if only three more yes votes had also changed their minds ...

The pitch to Town Meeting was the property would be sold to Amherst Media to build their new station because big evil corporate Western Mass Electric is kicking them out of their longtime location on College Street.

Amherst Media (formerly ACTV) current location to be demolished soon

And since Amherst Media is a non profit they could build there anyway, but the change in zoning means they can build on more of the property and lease some of it to other businesses.  Of course if they can't raise the millions required to buy the land and build the new building, the current property owner can simply sell it to another more commercial concern.

Historic Main Street lots.  Beautiful view even on a lousy day

I would have felt a lot more comfortable having a contract saying the zoning change is only for the deal with Amherst Media and if that falls through so does the zoning change, but government doesn't work that way.


Anonymous said...

Have the Unitarians even tried fundraising for the window. Richard Marsh

Larry Kelley said...

Not hard enough apparently.

Walter Graff said...

The Catholic church owns the world so raising money isn't a problem. Unitarians like to think it's everyone's responsibility. And since Amherst is a sucker for socialism, just hold your hand out.

Anonymous said...

I was told tonight that 'it's public art and it belongs to the community.' I sure hope neo nazis in Amherst don't own any art that they will put in a storefront. I pay enough in property taxes to not want it to go to a private organization.

Oh, by the way, isn't Big Brothers a private organization?

As soon as I can, I'm going somewhere cheaper to live.

Really Outraged said...

Can it actually be that taxpayer's money just went to a church for their maintenance??? I can't believe this is happening! Is this what the CPA was for ? To give money to a private religious organization for building maintenance? Maybe, instead of a big expensive expansion, they should have maintained what they have.

Anonymous said...

I have left. Amherst has become possibly the most ludicrous twn in the commonwealth. Last I checked the Unitarian church was a religious organization. Go fundraise like every other church. $106k could have gone to hire more afterschooll counselors for the town LSSE program. Or maybe it culd be better spent to help property owners whse tax is climbing by the minute.i cannot believe that these people not only suckered the town into frkingover 106,000 dollars, but ALSO was allowed to take down a perfectly healthy tree for an "expansion",,, so aparently they can afford the expansion but not take care of their previous tiffany stain glass window? Give me a break!

And as Umass gets more insulary, and the rents continue to rise...more businesses will fold dwntown...which currently comprise of more restaurants than anything else.

I am so upset over the mismanagement and personal agendas of a handful of Amherst town members that I could vomit.Cherry Hill, Salamader crosings, Cushman...good bye and good luck Amherst, your reputation precedes you on a daily basis.

Put a fork in me, I am done.

Walter Graff said...

Amherst, where business tax doesn't exist, but where homeowners pay out the a$$ for outrageous public servant salaries like school superintendents (who makes more than the governor), and to maintain any private religious organization that asks. All while the systems in this town rank at the middle to bottom of the state.

Anonymous said...

I would hazard a guess that most school superindentents in Massachusetts earn more than the governor.

Anonymous said...

The Gazette had a much more balanced report regarding the Tiffany window in their Sat. paper. Your reporting, Larry, is about as fair and balanced as Fox News.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, somehow I can't picture the government ever going after the Gazette for investigative stories