Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When A Barn Is The View

134 Montague Road, North Amherst

View that is currently screened by historic barn

The post and beam barn situated between a historic old 1768 farmhouse and an about to be developed Mill District is indeed a notable fixture just on the outskirts of North Amherst Village Center.  And has been for well over 100 years.

The Amherst Historical Commission had no problem last night designating the barn a "significant structure," but they seem to agonize over the issuance of a one year demolition delay.  The vast majority of residents who attended the meeting had no such reservations, as they simply wanted the view maintained no matter what it cost W.D. Cowls.

Approximately 30% of Amherst's total land area is "permanently protected open space."  And over half the property in town is owned by tax-exempt institutions:  Amherst College, UMass and Hampshire College being the major players. 

Combine that with the well above average cost of our public schools and you have the top two reasons why Amherst has the areas highest property tax, which prices out the middle class.   

Only 10% of our tax base is commercial, so residential property is disproportionately relied upon to bring in tax revenues.  Saving this barn for one year only delays the process of turning that area into a "commercial" cash cow with the development of The Mill District.

In fact the Historical Commission placed a one year delay on the demolition of the the old Trolley Barn just across the street, and a few weeks after the expiration of that year it collapsed into a pile of timber.  Now that location is the site of a 12,000 square foot, multi-use building that will generate tens of thousands annually in property tax revenue.

 The Trolley Barn rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of a former trolley barn

In America, where property rights are paramount, the best way to ensure a neighbor doesn't do something you don't like to their property is to buy it.  Or move. 

Interesting that many of the same folks who attended this meeting to advocate in behalf of ye old barn tried to get Town Meeting to buy the "development rights" to W.D. Cowls other property further to the east to stop "The Retreat" student housing development.

Historical Commission meeting sign in sheet

And these NIMBYs will be pushing for a North Amherst "Local Historic District," which will erode even further the rights of private landowners to spruce up their castle. 

Cinda Jones setting next meeting date with Historical Commission


Anonymous said...

It is interesting that a lot of historic barns (not just Cindi'a) seem to be coming/falling down now, and weren't in the past.

Maybe they were all built around the same time and hence, being the same age, are now all worn out around the same time, but it does seem sorta weird that they all need to come down now -- and not 20 years ago.

Anonymous said...

45 percent of the tax base is "residential" property owned by landlords, not homeowners. 10% is commercial. So 55% of the tax base are income producing properties. The tax base is 55% business, that is non-homeowners. That's a pretty good balance of business properties to non-business properties.

Anonymous said...

WWBRD? (What Would Barry Roberts Do?)

Larry Kelley said...

A house is a house is a house (or apartment).

Anonymous said...

The trolley barn did not fall down on its own. It was pushed by a piece of earth moving equipment, and then fell down. It was in bad shape and was supported solely by a pair of aging cables. It was poorly constructed when first built, but was an important part of the history of the area. The historical commission wanted town staff to explore options for it's future, which is what they did. There were no takers and the demo delay ran its course. No big deal.

It's replacement is not that interesting compared to some of the other original structures on the site, including the barn that was the subject of the latest demo delay hearing. Most Amherst residents will not know the difference as they do not have the tools to appreciate these visual differences. Historic fabric and architectural integrity comes into play in towns like Northampton or Burlington, VT, that contain a critical mass of architecture that enhances the experience of being there. Even people who have no appreciation for historical landscapes and possess a poor visual sense will like it. If people want to be there, they will spend money there. Will the Mill District be such a place? Maybe, but I doubt it. I hope that I am wrong. That said, you are right that it will generate revenue for the town and draw people to the area. So will the new development of the Carriage Shops, but now the Amherst nimbys will fight to the death to save the mural and try to derail the $15,000,000 project. I cannot wait for your posts on that battle. Maybe someone in town meeting will introduce a warrant to take the Carriage Shops by eminent domain so the mural can be saved and the tenants returned to their original roosting places. Anywhere else that would sound crazy, but not here.

Larry Kelley said...

I'm sure Archipelago is well aware of the one year demo delay threat that hangs over the mural.

Interesting in that the Carriage Shops are (barely) 50 years old, so that trips involvement of Historical Commission.

The mural is less than ten years old, but it is now what makes the Carriage Shops distinctive in a "historical" sense.

Anonymous said...

"A house is a house is a house (or apartment)."

Anon 9:28 had it right. In terms of the tax base and financial well-being of the town, how is a house (or apartment) used for commercial purposes different from any other commercial property?

Larry Kelley said...

Because the assessor says so.

Look at the valuation of a single family homes rented out to students vs the single family homes that are occupied by single family's.

No extra charge for "commercial" activity.

Anonymous said...

There is no "extra charge" for any commercial property. The assessor uses whatever means appropriate to determine the fair market value of a property, regardless of its function.

Commercial properties and large apartment complexes are assessed via a different means than single-family homes, but that's only because the markets for different types of properties are different, making some assessment techniques difficult to apply, as explained here:

Commercial Properties & Apartment Valuations

In all cases, however, the assessor's goal is the same, regardless of the means by which he arrives at it: to assign a valuation from which the tax can be calculated.

So again, Anon 9:28 was right. Most of the town's tax base comes from properties operating as businesses.

Larry Kelley said...

And in Northampton (with an assessor using the same criteria as the one in Amherst) the commercial tax base is twice that of Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Your point being what? That Northampton is somehow better off because more of their tax revenue is labeled "commercial"? How do you figure that? Do their "commercial" tax dollars spend better than the "residential" taxes collected from Amherst's landlords?

How would the tax burden borne by homeowners who live in their houses be eased by having fewer single family rentals and more restaurants, doctors' offices, construction companies, copy shops, supermarkets, etc.?

Larry Kelley said...

Businesses don't send children to our schools at $18,000 a pop.

Although the Supreme Court has declared corporations are people so ...

Anonymous said...

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. The problem (if there is one) is not on the revenue side -- it's on the cost side.

True, businesses are no burden on the schools. But neither are rental properties occupied by childless tenants, aka undergraduates.

Of course, not all rentals are inhabited by childless college students; some are occupied by families, and they cost the schools money. But businesses cost the town money too, in ways that depend on the type of business.

So it's pointless to keep yelling, "We need to broaden our commercial tax base!" without examining the associated costs of new businesses. Another pub requiring constant police attention would probably be a net drain on the town coffers, while a new retirement community might be a net positive, even if it were to pay only residential property taxes.

Larry Kelley said...

I'll drink to that.

Anonymous said...

I'd be pissed if my name, address and email address was displayed on a public internet blog just because I signed an attendance sheet at a meeting!

Glad to be Anonymous!

Larry Kelley said...

Actually Town Hall will sell you a "street list" that also gives date of birth.