Showing posts with label Amherst Historical Commission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amherst Historical Commission. Show all posts

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fire In The Sky!

The Evergreens is owned by Amherst College and is part of the Dickinson Museum Complex

While in overly educated Amherst you don’t really have to worry about “some stupid with a flare gun” burning an important building to the ground, fire is by its very nature a devastating creature born of surprise:

A pot left unattended on a stove, a cigarette disposed of in the wrong way or the spark from a plumber’s torch, and before you know it the ravenous beast is in full feeding frenzy. 

 First Congregational Church is located in the Dickinson Historic District

Yes AFD Central Station is less than a mile away from either The Evergreens or the First Congregational Church, but these days chances are the first engine on the scene of a box alarm may not have enough staff aboard to actually start fighting the fire.

So in mere minutes hundreds of years of history could be lost ... forever.

The Community Preservation Act Committee heard both fires suppression proposals last Tuesday night -- a $358,000 request from the First Congregational Church and $200,000 for The Evergreens.  

Amherst College plans to match the CPA grant so that is why their request is comparatively low, although CPA Chair Mary Streeter wondered why the College was not paying more.

Another member pointed out the CPA Committee has less than $2 million to fund all the requests before them while Amherst College has $2 billion in its endowment. 

The First Congregational Church packed the meeting with supporters but the CPA Committee was not overly receptive, wondering why for instance the Amherst Historical Commission ranked their request last in a recent recommendation letter to them even after suggesting the amount be reduced to $200,000 for "parity" with The Evergreens request.

Church supporters point out that in addtion to the "dramatic gothic presense" it provides the building is also used by Not Bread Alone,  Alcoholics Anonymous as well as the presence of a pre-school.  

 More than half the room cleared out after First Congregational Church hearing

And the Church is know for taking public stands on sometimes controversial social issues like gay rights, race issues or taking an anti-war stance.  A cowardly thief stole both their rainbow flag and an anti racism banner last summer demonstrating not everyone in Amherst is a tolerant progressive.

Some on the CPA Committee worry that by giving these two privately owned buildings expensive fire suppression systems it would open up the floodgates for others to apply.  And at the age of 257, Amherst has a bevy of historical buildings.  

 Henry Hills & Son matching mansions would probably love a new fire suppression system

The CPA Committee will make their final report to Town Meeting by the begining of March.  A positive recommendation is not 100% guarantee that an item will be funded,   but a negative recommendation is certain death.

Grace Church in town center.  Not asking for CPA money (yet)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thowing In the Towel?

Time is running out for Amherst College owned Little Red Schoolhouse

Carol Gray crashed the Community Preservation Act Committee meeting last night to file a (late) request for $10,000 concerning her ultimate windmill, the Little Red Schoolhouse. 

At least this seems to indicate she has given up on the enormously expensive idea of saving the building.

Only a small percentage of the $10K would go towards photographing for posterity the interior and exterior of the 79-year-old building.  The majority of the funding  would "document the human side" of the preschool business that operated within its tiny walls.

Of course Ms. Gray herself would be an interview subject since she's an overly proud parent of a Little Red Schoolhouse graduate. 

And if Herman Melville was still around, he could interview her for the writing of "Moby Dick Returns."

Carol Gray (2nd from rt) at 11/22/15 meeting trying to get Historical Commission to become Little Red cheerleaders

Destruction Delayed

The 2 buildings are on the west side of Kendrick Park

Despite the prominence of the two local developers involved (Curt Shumway and Barry Roberts) and that of their architect (John Kuhn) and legal counsel (Tom Reidy) the Amherst Historical Commission voted unanimously not to allow the vaporization of two buildings in the north end of downtown that have stood in that location for over 150 years.

 John Kuhn, Barry Roberts, Curt Shuway (seated) attorney Tom Reidy (standing)

The main reason being, after 150+ years, they add a texture and feel to the neighborhood that would be forever altered by their destruction.  And yes, a good number of neighbors turned out to reaffirm that before the Commission.

 Vast majority of audience was in favor of demolition delay

In fact only one person from the audience spoke in favor of the demolition (Niels la Cour) reminding the Commission that Amherst needs commercial development and erecting hurdles via a demo delay only exaserbates the town's anti-business reputation.

Sarah la Cour also submitted a letter on Business Improvement District stationary supporting the demolition.  Barry Roberts was of course one of the main architects of creating the BID.

Click to enlarge/read

The developers wish to build a four-story 20,000 square foot office building with possible retail on the ground floor.   But not a bar or restaurant, Mr. Kuhn assured the Commission. 

The area is zoned limited business which limits the height to only three floors so even if the Historical Commission allowed the demolition the project must still get a Special Permit from the Planning Board to go up the extra floor.  That motion would require six of the eight members to vote yes.

 Local researcher/historian Ed Wilfert presented his findings to the Commission

Attorney Reidy, after it appeared certain the delay would be enacted, requested perhaps making it only a six-month delay.  But the bylaw only allows for a one year delay,  and it's all-or-nothing.  The Commission can, however, six months down the road lift the delay and allow demolition.

Developers can simply wait out the year and are then free to demolish the buildings or they could try to move them to a new location.  

Back in 2007 Mr. Roberts moved the last remaining house on Kendrick Park to a new location on Gray Street.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Moveable History?

12 Hallock (circled) will be demolished for parking  and house in front razed for a new multi-level commercial building

The Amherst Historical Commission will hold a demolition delay hearing on Tuesday night regarding two adjacent structures in the north end of downtown owned by two prominent local developers, Curt Shumway and Barry Roberts.

Besides dripping in local history the other main factor working against the immediate demolition is both buildings are in excellent condition with a lot of visual curb appeal.

 12 Hallock Street
236 North Pleasant Street

Perhaps a downside of the two local developers being responsible owners over the years and actually taking good care of the structures.  

The Historical Commission can only impose a maximum of a one-year delay and they appear to be not overly influenced by the status of an owner.

For instance back in July of 2014 they voted to impose the one year delay on Cinda Jones -- dubbed by neighbors as the "Donald Trump of Amherst" -- for a historic barn on Montague Road in The Mill District.

 Cowls barn 134 Montague Road in The Mill District, North Amherst

Although that demolition delay has now expired the barn is still a stately presence looming over the North Amherst Village center.

Vestry now at 12 Hallock Street was originally just behind what is now College/Memorial Hall, owned by Amherst College

Editor's note:  In the interest of transparency Curt Shumway is an advertiser and I was one of the 10,000 babies delivered by Dr. Merzbach 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Brick By Brick

West Experiment Station back in June

Let's hope UMass has not bitten off more than they can chew with the West Experiment Station reconstruction project to make way for the new $100 million Physical Sciences Building.

 West Experiment Station 11/29/15

As of today the historic old building has been completely dismantled and will hopefully be reassembled by 2018, integrated into the new Physical Sciences Building, for a unique blending of the old and the new.

West Experiment Station today

Trolley Station on North Pleasant Street, built 1911 trashed June, 2012 by a contractor without full approval

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Third Of A Loaf?

 Historic North Common now home to the Merry Maple

Even though the state recently turned Amherst down for a $400,000 Parkland Acquisitions & Renovations for Communities grant to rehabilitate historic North Common in the heart of our downtown, the project may not be dead.

In a letter to the Community Preservation Act Committee, Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek proposed putting the $190,000 appropriated last year as (less than) matching funds to the PARC grant still be used for the project, with the balance of the funding coming over the next few years from CPA funds.

 Click to enlarge/read

The CPAC was receptive to the idea, but the consensus was it needed to go back to Town Meeting since their approval last year for the $190K appropriation was based on acquiring the PARC grant for the lion's share of the project costs.

Of course some members wondered if perhaps the Business Improvement District, with its $315,265 annual budget, could shoulder some of the funding.  

The CPA Committee currently has $1.7 million at their disposal, not including the $190,000 set aside last year for the North Common historic preservation project.  Proposed (13) projects for FY17 total $2,125,520.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Marking Our History

Christopher Thompson had temporary marker at town's 2011 commemoration ceremony

The Amherst Historical Commission on Monday night voted unanimously to approve placing a request before the Community Preservation Act Committee for $5,000 to purchase a granite marker to remember Christopher Thompson who is buried in sacred West Cemetery.

Although it is not known exactly where he is buried the marker would probably be placed next to his son Charles Thompson.  Both father and son served in the 5th cavalry, a black regiment, during the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our entire history.

The funding request came via the newest member to the Historical Commission, retired Amherst College professor Bob Romer.

In September, 2011 Mr. Romer was instrumental in motivating the town to host a ceremony at West Cemetery to commemorate the five black soldiers buried there who fought in the Civil War, including Christopher Thompson and his son Charles.

Bob Romer, Veterans Agent Steven Connor, Reynolds Winslow, Dave Ziomek 9/18/11

Likely image of Christopher Thompson

Monday, November 23, 2015

Little Red Schoolhouse: Status Quo

Little Red Schoolhouse:  Worth $1 million to move?

After an hour of one-sided overly enthusiastic discussion the Amherst Historical Commission decided not to take any action on the one year demo delay (which expires in May) currently in effect for the Amherst College owned Little Red Schoolhouse.

While that may sound like a victory for breathless zealot Carol Gray, it fell far short of what she repeatedly asked the Commission to do: mainly go on a public relations warpath against Amherst College, and try to force a meeting with President Biddy Martin.

Commissioners expressed exasperation with Ms. Gray who simply refused to answer simple questions with a yes or no.  Like whether she has raised a single dime towards the preservation effort over these past six months?  Well, no (after 10 minutes worth of other ideas that will never pan out).

Or whether she secured property off the Amherst College campus for the building to go?  Umm, no.

Amherst College representative Tom Davies said the College wants the building gone but will not put money into moving it, and their estimates are more like $1 million vs Ms. Gray's overly optimistic $150,000 (which did not include relocation site work).

He also pointed out, when he could get a word in edgewise, the College takes historical preservation very seriously and has won awards for doing so. 

Little Red Schoolhouse is currently standing in the way of the new $214 million Science Center which the College hopes to break ground on next year.

 Amherst Historical Commission:  Carol Gray 2nd from rt, Tom Davies rear center

Monday, November 16, 2015

Close The Barn Door

Colorful barn at 332 West Street, South Amherst front view
Side view

Even though Amherst Town Meeting approved $75,000 in Community Preservation Act funds almost two years ago for rehabilitation of the historic barn that's hard to miss on West Street (Rt. 116) in South Amherst, the barn may not survive much longer.

The town tax money was never spent and the property just changed hands at the beginning of this month.

And the barn today looks sadder than it did two years ago when the CPA committee was told the owners insurance company wanted it removed immediately because it was a liability/safety issue.

Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek will give the Community Preservation Act Committee an update next month as town officials are trying to talk the new owner into saving the landmark.

I asked town assessor David Burgess if renovating the structure would increase the valuation of the property hence increasing the tax burden on the homeowner:

If the barn is restored then the value would probably go up and, in anticipation of your next question, no not by $75,000.  I imagine if that much money was set aside it would be to replicate what how the building was originally, i.e. historical materials, whereas assessments are based on replacement costs in today’s materials for the same use.  

The assessor was more concerned about why the property just sold for well under his current assessed value.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Another 1 Gone: Carriage House Demolition

Circa 1860 Carriage House, 1081 South East Street

After more than an hour of discussion punctuated by a few pregnant pauses and four votes taken, the Amherst Historical Commission, finally, decided unanimously NOT call a Demolition Delay Hearing which would have resulted in one-year protection for a historic circa 1860 South Amherst carriage house.

Architect John Kuhn was forthright with his presentation saying, "Let me be clear:  We don't want to have a hearing.  The building is not worth putting money into."

Kuhn presented the replacement building (already approved by the ZBA) which will serve as a garage and office to the current owners, but is designed to allow for a better view to the rear of the main house onto land recently purchased by the owners.

After filing a demolition permit the Historical Commission has 35 days to call a Demo Delay Hearing, which requires time to post legal notices.   So the 9/21 meeting was pretty much the last chance to call that Hearing.

The Commission's concerns were of the standard "vanishing landscape" variety.  This carriage house was a "contributing structure" to the South Amherst Common Historic District, and the only one left of its kind in that District.

Commission members were also unhappy with the new design not matching the original structure it would be replacing.

Kuhn responded somewhat indignantly: "I didn't think this was a design critique kind of meeting.  The building is set back from the house so it does not dwarf it.  My clients have already spent a lot of money on design so we are not here to look at alternative designs."

Kuhn also pointed out the Zoning Board of Appeals had already approved the new design.

The first vote on the motion NOT to call a Demolition Delay Hearing was met with total silence.  On the second attempt two voted yes to not calling a Hearing and two hesitated.  Again.

The Chair then offered to write a letter to the owners expressing their concerns and requesting their presence at a Commission meeting.  The motion to table a decision until next meeting passed 3-0 with one abstention.

But then Senior Planner Nate Malloy pointed out the next meeting would be too late to hold an official demolition hearing (as the deadline will have passed) so they took yet another vote on simply writing a letter of concern but NOT holding a demolition delay hearing.

That passed 3-0 with one abstention.  Kuhn promised to take the official letter "seriously."

Carriage House at 1081 South East Street is currently used as garage and office

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Matter Of Trust

West Experiment Station, 682 North Pleasant Street

The mistrust created by the unfortunate demise of the Trolley Station three years ago continues to hang over UMass:

Statement from Joe Larson, Preserve UMass
Click to enlarge/read

Trolley Station on North Pleasant Street, built 1911 trashed June, 2012

 West Experiment Station sits on busy North Pleasant Street
682 North Pleasant Street

Friday, June 5, 2015

Preserving The Priceless

Amherst College Pratt Field this morning

When Amherst College went about a $12.5 million major renovation of Pratt Field a couple years ago a tree as old as the athletic field itself ( circa 1891) stood in the way of that progress.

Rather than taking the simple, cheap way out -- destroying the tree and replanting a new one -- the College spent $100,000 to move the majestic Camperdown Elm 30 yards to safety.

 Camperdown Elm this morning

Sure they are a private college with a decent endowment (although an Anonymous benefactor paid for most of the renovations, including the tree move) and UMass is a public University with a small endowment.   But when it comes to protecting your historic heart and soul, cost is secondary.

West Experiment Station 682 North Pleasant Street this morning

West Experiment Station is one of the original buildings on campus from W-A-Y back when UMass was known as Massachusetts Agricultural College (1887).  It is also highly visible located directly on North Pleasant Street, which cuts through the heart of the sprawling campus.

When I asked the UMass Facilities & Campus Services folks via their Facebook page if they were tearing down West Experiment Station I received (rather quickly) the following reply:

Demolished? No! Moved (slightly)? Yes! And this is great news for WES all around. Actually, the building isn't technically being "moved" (because the age/fragility of the mortar work won't allow us to just pick it up and plop it down); rather, it will be completely *deconstructed* and then completely *reconstructed* a couple dozen yards west and a bit south of its current location. Completely new (and deeper) foundation, brand new building systems (MEP), and about 50% more of the building wheelchair accessible, too. We're achieving this by "buddying" the renovation, especially with respect to utilities, with the Physical Sciences Building project going up just behind/north of WES. The building is also being moved in order to anchor a return of Ellis Way --the reestablishment of which is part of the Campus Master Plan.

However, Preserve UMass point man Joseph Larson is not overly happy with the situation and after the fiasco with the Trolley Stop three years ago, I can't say I blame him.

Click to enlarge/read

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Historic Preservation Via Duplication

Amherst History Mural overlooks sacred West Cemetery

"If you can't save it, repaint it" should be the motto for the One East Pleasant Street 5-story mixed use building coming soon to the northern end of downtown Amherst, within the shadow of Kendrick Place (set to open in August).

The 16' by 140' Amherst Community History Mural painted on the back of the Carriage Shops overlooking West Cemetary by Cambridge artist David Fichter ten years ago will be repainted by the original artist on the back of the new building.

Last night the Amherst Historical Commission voted unanimously to accept an amended easement agreement, thus guaranteeing a new and brighter mural will continue to overlook Miss Emily's final resting place.  Forever.

One East Pleasant Street as seen from historic West Cemetery

West Cemetery from Triangle Street side

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The (High) Cost Of Preservation

Cost to repair old barn at 35 Tyler Place:  $48,614

Earlier this month the Amherst Historical Commission hit Amherst College with a one-year demolition delay -- the maximum extent of their powers -- to (temporarily) protect the Little Red Schoolhouse.

On June 15 Amherst College will go before the Dickinson Local Historic District Commission to request demolishing an ancient, dilapidated barn at 35 Tyler Place, tucked away in a location invisible to the general public.

The Historical Commission, at their May 19th meeting, voted not to even bother holding a hearing on the matter.  In other words, tear down this barn!  (with apologies to President Reagan).

Interestingly the Dickinson Local Historic Commission is required to hold a hearing and if they vote not to allow the demolition, then that is the end of the story.  Do not tear down this barn! 

In other words they have unlimited power when it comes to preserving a building within the Dickinson Historic District. 

No wonder NIMBYs are chomping at the bit to form Local Historic Districts. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Applauding Historic Preservation

Festive, patriotic Lord Jeffery Inn

The Amherst Historical Commission -- not to be confused with the Amherst Historical Society -- awarded three local landowners with a certificate of merit demonstrating the town's appreciation for how they maintain the historical look and feel of their property and as such, adding to the beauty of Amherst.

Three categories were covered:  Retail, residential and institutional.  The winners were all invited to the 12/15/14 Amherst Select Board meeting for a public presentation.

Amherst College, the town's largest landowner, won in the institutional category for the picturesque Lord Jeffery Inn "on the Amherst town common."

Even though they are tax exempt on all their academic buildings and property Amherst College is still the town's largest annual taxpayer due to all the houses they own and rent to faculty, plus the commercial Amherst Golf Course (that puts our municipal one to shame) and Lord Jeff.

Historical Commission Chair Michael Hanke highlighted how Amherst College recently did many millions of dollars in renovations, yet the exterior of the Lord Jeff looks the same as it has for the past 60 or 70 years.

He also mentioned that same exterior attribute when presenting the award for retail to the Cushman Market in North Amherst.

And in the residential category the Historical Commission awarded Henry Hills House, LLC (Jerry Guidera and Russ Wilson) the award for saving historic old houses previously owned by Amherst College, (and another one owned by the town) that were moved to their current location on Gray Street adjacent to the historic old Henry Hills House.

38 Gray Street, Henry Hills House built 1863

14 Gray Street, historic Tuttle homestead

32 Gray Street, historic Chapin-Ward house