Monday, June 3, 2013

A Really BIG Deal

Cushman Village

For the 255th Annual Amherst Town Meeting tonight's session is D-Day: Disaster or -- let's hope -- Delightful.

Mainly due to article 43, the hostile snatching by eminent domain of 154 acres of average grade woodland to stop a badly needed student housing development, the modern day version of the bogeyman.

But if town meeting members have done their due diligence homework, they will support my "motion to dismiss" the dangerous article that opens the door to all sorts of bad legal consequences.

The town has not used the tyrannical power of eminent domain for such a large land taking since 1987 when, also at the request of North Amherst residents, they absorbed the 90 acres Cherry Hill Golf Course costing taxpayers $2.2 million ($4.4 million in today's dollars).

Which of course underscores the significant value of the parcel now in question:  More than 50% larger than Cherry Hill, with public water/sewer located nearby.

In fact the town help build a stub of an access road 25 years ago when it purchased in a friendly manner adjacent land for a water treatment plant, clearly acknowledging development was in the cards for that particular parcel.

A few years ago Amherst College purchased at auction the 37 acre Dakin Estate (one quarter the size of the Cowls land) near their 9 hole golf course for $4.3 million in order to stop housing developer Barry Roberts.

If Landmark Properties should be driven off by the nasty NIMBY reception they are receiving W.D. Cowls, Inc could simply sell or develop 15 building lots on the property, some of them along Henry Street where the salamanders roam.

Yes, if W.D. Cowls, Inc President Cinda Jones was the "Wicked Witch of the West" she would reenact the demise of her equally wicked sister and drop a house on the cute little critters.  But, fortunately, she's not a wicked witch (and she dresses better).

Last week Town Meeting purchased the 5 acres Rock Farm on South East Street and as part of the deal two private building lots were sold for $132,000 each.  By that accounting just the 15 lots that are available to build on "by right" on Cowls land are worth w-a-y more than the $1.2 million Town Meeting is being asked to use should they trigger the nuclear option, eminent domain.

Since the property is currently in Ch61A the town has "Right Of First Refusal."  And there's plenty of time for that as the state allows 120 days from when a "bona fide" offer is first tendered for the property. 

At the moment both private parties trying to do the $6.5 million deal are fighting with the town over what constitutes a "bona fide offer," kind of like President Clinton questioning the definition of "is."

Interestingly the reason why the state mandates offers be real is to avoid municipalities being taken advantage of by unscrupulous sellers who simply rig a (fake) deal with a friend or business associate in order to get a municipality to pay an artificially inflated price.

In the 1995 The Trust for Public Land vs Marmer, et al, 4 LCR 90, 95 case, the court declared:  "Clearly , the statute does not envision the municipality ... being required to purchase a parcel of land for a sum which the original offeree may chose, at its option, to never pay."

Obviously the presence of 400 "Stop The Retreat" signs all over the Happy Valley indicate most people know the two private parties are deadly serious about doing this deal.

So if the town really wants to socialistically stop it the only alternative is to implement the Right of First Refusal, and that will cost many more millions than the $1.2 million figure showing in Article 43.

And at this stage, with the town desperately in need of a new ($12 million) South Fire Station and renovations to 40-year-old elementary schools, that is really not a rational decision. 

Also tonight, ironically enough, Town Meeting could consider zoning tweaks (Articles 30, 31, and 32) to allow common sense increases in residential density to Commercial Village Centers -- especially North Amherst.

You know, the type of smart incremental growth that if enacted a few years ago could have obviated The Retreat.


Anonymous said...

No evidence that approving those zoning changes would have had any impact on the proposed development.

Anonymous said...

"tyrannical power of eminent domain"

Are you forgetting that you were all in favor of eminent domain taking of "The Gateway" back when you were on the ARA?

Was it OK then because you were the tyrant?

I understand that these issues are complex and nuanced.

So please don't over simplify your "news" stories with all your Good vs. Evil talk.

It insults your readers.

-Nimby (All of Amherst is my backyard!)

Larry Kelley said...

At least you know what you are. And recognizing you have a problem is the First Step ...

Anonymous said...

For someone who so often reminds us of his journalism study at UMASS, you are a very poor proofreader.

The entire second paragraph is not even a complete sentence.

And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Now I'm sure we'll hear some excuse about meeting a deadline, which is something journalists do every day.

We've all realized years ago that your particular "journalism" isn't the kind that aspires to presenting things objectively, but at least you could proofread.

Larry Kelley said...

Sometimes you gotta' break the rules (like using "gotta" for instance).

I often make simple mistakes just to see if you're paying attention. And if that's the best you could find wrong with that post then ....

Anonymous said...

First, its interesting that you changed to word steal to snatch. Perhaps, as with Babetown, you sometime back-pedal (though we don't know where you got the idea that SHC people have).
Also, you WERE in favor of taking by eminent domain on Phillips Street and those properties weren't even getting decades of huge tax breaks.
The Cowls have been paying annually (with logging rights) the equivalent of what many of us pay on our house lot IN EXCHANGE for the town having the ROFR. That was the arrangement and was requested by them.
Meanwhile, there is historical precedent for the eminent domain language in Article 43. Among the examples is the one from Town Meeting in October 1986, "Voted unanimously that the Town authorize the Board of Selectmen to acquire on behalf of the inhabitants of the Town of Amherst by purchase, eminent domain, or otherwise, property belonging to W.D. Cowls."
Too funny, that's the second time you've used my response (if that's the best you could find wrong) to labeling me a nitwit for inadvertently spelling your name wrong on my first post.

Larry Kelley said...

I must be slipping. Usually I refer to folks of your ilk as Cowardly Anon Nitwits.

Anonymous said...

That's okay. We also refrained from calling you a pompous jackass.

Larry Kelley said...

Guess I must be over the target.

Anonymous said...

It really IS a shame that LK doesn't respond to the most valid points people raise about his often thought-provoking and challenging ideas. He seems to target punctuation and anonymous-ness in his dismissive, pejorative way as a means of avoiding real discussion. Of course, he can also weed out any potential posts so that his narrative always results in his coming out on top of these 'arguments.'

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, it's the tragedy of this blog. So much energy and really, a good service provided by the blog writer, but sadly, no ability to engage in actual intelligent, thoughtful conversation. Just jackassery. Just stupid nastiness.

This blog could be one of the best things going, but instead it's like a pimple you can't stop looking at.

Larry Kelley said...

Just don't try to pop me.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think I'm done, though I'm sure another cowardly anon nitwit won't be missed.

Here's hoping your name calling of those who disagree with you is not in your parenting tool kit.

The other guy who had a sainted Irish mother-but who taught me better.

Anonymous said...

Why are we in desperate need of a South Amherst fire station? When was the last time there was a fire in a South Amherst home that the firefighters couldn't get to? (Actual fires, not ambulance runs.) The number of house fires is decreasiing, so why spend $31 million to stop the next few?

Please put some numbers behind these statements.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually the amount is between $10 and $12 million.

The first consultant report calling for a new fire station in South Amherst dates back to the 1950s.

And Amherst -- including South Amherst -- has grown a tad since then. Quite a tad.

Anonymous said...

So, since the 1950's, South Amherst has been dealing with this danger? I had no idea it was so unsafe to live here. Again, data please.

Larry Kelley said...

When my apartment burned down here in South Amherst twenty five years ago (on a Friday the 13th no less) it took them 7 minutes to get here because town center was so busy that morning.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, why is no one mentioning the Diesel Fuel the AFD has to burn on the round trips to South Amherst?

If a PVTA bus being driven conservatively (i.e. without lights/siren and such) only gets 4 MPG, I doubt that the ambulance even gets that -- let alone the far heavier fire trucks.

You add 7-10 miles to ever run, including every false alarm and the rest, and you are burning a lot more Diesel fuel, wearing out the equipment, and putting nasty stuff into the air.

You are only going to get so many miles and so many engine hours out of the vehicles -- you'll get more if they take care of them, but then that costs money, and more if you run them more. Particularly if you run them hard so that you get to an emergency quickly. So while you don't know exactly how much you are shortening the lives of (particularly) the fire trucks by not having them already in South Amherst, the fact is that you are.

We won't even get into the chains they run on tires in the winter -- how they sometimes roll on dry pavement with chains on, and what that does to the roads. And not already being in South Amherst, they do another 10+ miles of damage.

Anonymous said...

Ed, I would've thought you'd like to see us "pergutorial cesspool" dwellers burn up all of our capital on fuel and wear and tear to our roads and emergency vehicles, it will send us into receivership faster.

Why do you continue to concern yourself with our issues? Don't they have a FD where you live?

Dr. Ed said...

Ed, I would've thought you'd like to see us "pergutorial cesspool" dwellers burn up all of our capital on fuel and wear and tear to our roads and emergency vehicles, it will send us into receivership faster.

I'm not so certain it would. Instead, I fear, you would hold the students de-facto hostages for more cash from Boston. And I don't think you deserve any more...

And heaven forbid ever mentioning something because it is true. A South Amherst Fire Station is needed...

Anonymous said...

So Ed... the cops were called about the bullet flying through the wall from an adjacent apartment over at Southpoint... Right??

Is there some reason you don't want to answer that question?

Anonymous said...

Hello? Ed?

Anonymous said...

I'm just going to have to assume then that either: a) the story of the bullet flying through the wall is a big fat lie, or b) you failed to notify the police when someone shot a bullet through a wall into an adjacent apartment.