Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek tries to pitch Town Meeting the property deal
Amherst Town Meeting raced through articles tonight like a turtle on crack, completing 12 of 20 articles on the November Special Town Meeting warrant.
The only issue that generated controversy was Article 11, an Open Space $151,000 purchase of about 20 acres of undeveloped property in East Amherst for conservation purposes, normally a sacred cow in the town of Amherst.
The article was supported unanimously by the Select Board and Finance Committee, but after a 45 minute discussion failed rather miserably (90 No, to 72 Yes) considering it needed a two thirds majority to pass.
Town officials pushed the idea of a "community farm" pointing out how the All Things Local Cooperative Market movement was interested in using the property as a incubator for fledgling farmers.
Ironically the most devastating presentation against the proposal came from Sarah E. O'Brien Swartz the newest member of the Finance Committee, who was appointed to replace the current owner of the 20 acre property, Bob Saul, who suddenly resigned from the Finance Committee.
He had purchased the land, currently assessed at only $8,500, five years ago for $157,000.
Ms Swartz, who co-owns Swartz Family Farm in North Amherst, pointed out that farming is "hard". Her explanation of the rigors of full time farming as compared to recreational "community gardens" reminded me of someone who trained for an ascent of Mt Washington by cycling the perfectly flat bike path three or four times a week. (He didn't make it.)
Opponents questioned the high price for land that probably would never be developed anyway, and at most would only support one house.
Since $41,785 of the total amount was coming from "Community Preservation Funds", which can also be spent for "affordable housing," speakers pointed out the money would be better spent on possibly purchasing Echo Village Apartments or Rolling Green Apartments in order to preserve those affordable units.
Town Meeting had no problem supporting Article 10, spending $180,000 in tax money (contingent on a matching state grant of $180,000) for 12 acres of property around the Atkins Reservoir.
That property was more easily developable and is currently owned by the largest private landowner in the state, W.D. Cowls, Inc.
Tellers prepare for a recorded Tally Vote on Article 11