Hawthorne Farm from a backyard view
The Housing & Sheltering Committee voted unanimously this morning to move forward with the plan to issue a Request For Proposal to build an affordable housing duplex at Hawthorne Farm, volunteering two of their current members -- Nancy Gregg and Denise LeDuc -- for the "selection committee" that will be appointed by Town Manager John Musante.
Amherst Housing & Sheltering Committee
Amherst Town Meeting approved spending $500,000 three years ago using Community Preservation Act money to purchase the farm, for "the purposes of Open Space, Recreation, and/or Community Housing" " although many people seemed to think it was mainly for soccer fields.
Hawthorne Farmhouse 235 East Pleasant Street
Ideally historical preservation would also have come into play by restoring the late 1700s farmhouse for use as affordable housing, but a structural integrity analysis proved the renovation cost too prohibitive.
Thus the farmhouse and barn (circa 1890s) will be demolished in the next 8 to 10 weeks. In 2010 the Historical Commission imposed a one year demolition delay on the town but that is the maximum extent of their power when it comes to preserving structures.
Hawthorne Farm Barn
The Housing & Sheltering Committee tried to be flexible in their recommendations for a potential developer by not requiring the project to acquire a Special Permit from the Zoning Board, be owner occupied, handicapped accessible or LEED certified. Any and all of these, however, would be considered "highly advantageous."
In other unanimous votes the committee agreed to support Article 18 the Planning Board "tweak" of mixed-use buildings zoning in Village Centers at the upcoming Town Meeting. Conversely, they quickly voted to oppose Article 19, the citizen petition article that reverses the spring Town Meeting passage of mixed use zoning, which encourages badly needed development.
By rolling back the minimum number of units to only six from the current 10, developers of reasonably sized projects would be forced to acquire a Special Permit, which requires a unanimous vote of the Zoning Board.
Other town officials and spectators in the audience
The Housing & Sheltering Committee also voted unanimously to support the Planning Board's Article 14, a zoning initiative that makes it easier to build a duplex as long as one unit is permanently "affordable."
All zoning articles require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting to pass.
The Committee also placed on the agenda for their next meeting (Oct 23) a discussion of the Amherst Housing Authority cut back on the value of individual Section 8 vouchers for low-income residents, but made it clear they were not going to take an official position on it.
Select Board liaison Alisa Brewer, in a motherly sort of way, said to the Housing & Sheltering Committee: "You have no authority over the AHA." Although their member Denise LeDuc is the Executive Director of the AHA.
Co-Chair Nancy Gregg thought the low income voucher situation should be an item for discussion (but not an actionable vote) to send the clear message, "We care about it."
7 acre Hawthorne Farm property outlined in yellow is contiguous with Wildwood Elementary School (top center in red)