Monday, July 15, 2013

Town Hall Showdown

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."


DaveMB said...

Larry -- is my math right here? The assessed valuation of the town is roughly $2B. If the town were to pay $6M all at once directly to stop the development, raising the money by a Prop 2.5 override, that would be $3 per $1000 or $600 on a $200K house.

I expect they would actually borrow the money and make the payments out of the conservation budget, but that is the magnitude of the expense we are talking about.

Anonymous said...

So, Mr. Kelley,
It appears that you view the defining issue on this matter is "Free Enterprise".

Would you care to elaborate?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 10:21:

It's simple, really: the land is in private hands, and the owner of said land is conducting a private transaction with a private buyer, interested in buying the land for development.

Mr. Kelley probably thinks, and I would agree with him there, that the town government shouldn't be involved in this transaction and exercise its right to buy the property. A town buyout would limit free enterprise, and would cost the town a sizable amount of money better spent on positive projects, rather than to just trying to *prevent* something from happening—an action which would do absolutely nothing to contribute to solving the housing issue in town.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, what he (or she) said.

High rates for primates said...

Looks like Ponziville insiders have their own unique version of
"rent control".

Um, can you say, "criminal"?

(ohhhhhh yeah, I ~knew~ you could!)

Anonymous said...

Actually the America was founded on the right to free speech, to elect their government, to not have warrantless government searches of private homes, and so on. Read your history, man.

Also, it won't unseat capitalism to have the town exercise it's statutory right of first refusal. Cowles has benefited from a statute that exempted them from taxes if it kept its land in forest uses.

None of this like is North Korea, you know.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine a case wherein an "Enterprise" might seek to develop a project that you would want the Planning Board to choose to thwart by obtaining the land for the town?

Larry Kelley said...

Not for $6.5 million dollars.

Anonymous said...

So it's more a matter of price than principle?

Larry Kelley said...

The best things in life are free.

Ii's easy to have "principle" when using other people's money.

Anonymous said...

When I used the term " principle", I was referring to
your apparent assertion that the key issue was "Free Enterprise"- whiich seemed to be a matter of principle to you-

Your response seemed to indicate that for some price, abandoning the enterprise principal might be ok with you.

Is that what you meant?

Larry Kelley said...

I can't be bought, if that's what you're getting at.

Anonymous said...

So there are no circumstances wherein the Planning Board might legitimately choose to thwart a "fFree Enterprise" effort in Amherst?

Larry Kelley said...

Not THIS one.

If they do, they should be recalled (well, except Amherst doesn't have a recall provision).

Anonymous said...

Why are you unable to answer my question?

In your initial post, you appear to claim absolute allegiance to "Free Enterprise".

Now your tone is much more guarded?

Larry Kelley said...

Perhaps you have not been paying attention to my relentless pounding of Amherst slumlords over the past few years?

I'm very picky about the "free enterprise" projects I give my "absolute allegiance."

I also hate having deep philosophical discussions with NIMBY Anons.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have annoyed you with my relentless challenging of your assertions.

My apologies.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, relentless.

No problem.

If you really had annoyed me I would have called you a CAN (Cowardly Anon Nitwit).

Apology accepted.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "The Retreat", wasn't that the name of the gated community that the Zimmerman/Martin encounter occurred in? Same company?

Larry Kelley said...


Anonymous said...

As a follow up to our exchanges regarding my questions about your views regarding free enterprise, I want you to know that I'm just beginning to engage in discussions here.
Thus I've chosen to remain anonymous while deciding whether to continue to pursue this.

As for my questions about your views, I'm truly interested in understanding your core beliefs.
I would hope that you have the patience to educate me fully.

Larry Kelley said...

You have six years worth of material (over 2,500 posted articles) at this site that pretty clearly illuminates where I'm coming from.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll do some reading. I hope you wom't mind if my research will result in my asking you more questions for clarifications and confirmations.

Roach Patrolling down Ponziville's spine said...

And feel free to ask me questions as well.

Yours always,

Roach Patrol