Sign, sign, everywhere a sign ...
On Wednesday night the Amherst Planning Board will be the first official town body to weigh in on the possible acquisition of 154 acres of sub prime woodland in northeast Amherst currently owned by W.D. Cowls, Inc, the largest private landowner in the state.
The property is enrolled in the state's Chapter 61A conservation program so it pays very little to the town in property taxes, but Amherst gets a "Right Of First Refusal" should the property come out of CH61A due to a sale. In this case to a developer. A b-i-g one, Landmark Properties.
By now any of you living within the Happy Valley nuclear fallout zone have noticed the ubiquitous red stop signs sprinkled on lawns everywhere. The Retreat is what they wish to stop, a 190 unit student cottage style housing development proposed for the 154 acre parcel.
Although ideally, with a zoning change allowing denser development, only 30% of the property will be used; but as it now stands twice that percentage would be required ... and is allowed by right.
If built, the town assessor has guestimated The Retreat will pay the town $395,182 per year in annual property taxes with a guaranteed increase every year of 2.5%.
NIMBYs were already unceremoniously torpedoed at Amherst Town Meeting when they tried to have the town take the property by eminent domain, a drastic measure requiring a two-thirds super majority. The "Motion to Dismiss" the article passed easily.
Both the Planning Board and Conservation Commission are required to make a "recommendation" to the five-member Amherst Select Board, the final authority on deciding the Right Of First Refusal.
Late this afternoon the Town Attorney confirmed to the Select Board that the $6.5 million purchase and sale agreement for the property was legitimate.
Thus the ROFR will be a costly one, as the $6.5 million required to match Landmark Properties offer is more than the combined reserves the town has saved in Free Cash and Stabilization funds.
The Select Board vote (July 29th meeting) only requires a simple majority, but Town Meeting would also have to support funding the move with a two-thirds majority vote.
Wednesday night's meeting sets the stage for a (remotely) possible epic failure. Any member of the Planning Board who recommends this taking should be forced to write on a chalkboard 6.5 million times: "America was founded on Free Enterprise."