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.