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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Tear Down This Barn!

Cowls barn, 134 Montague Road, North Amherst

After impassioned pleas by North Amherst neighbors with no vested interest other than visual, the Amherst Historical Commission voted unanimously (4 yes, 3 absent) to impose a "one year demolition delay" on W.D. Cowls, the largest private landowner in the state, doing business in the town of Amherst before there was a town of Amherst.

 Amherst Historical Commission

The barn sits immediately behind and looms over the Cowls family farmhouse -- built in 1768 -- which now serves as company headquarters.

 Cinda Jones failed to convince the Amherst Historical Commission to allow demolition

The barn is within spitting distance of the cow barn @ 113 Cowls Road that will be almost completely dismantled and rebuilt for the selling pleasure of Atkins Farms Country Market, a relative newcomer at just over 100 years of doing business in the far south end of town.

 Cow barn:  future home of Atkins Farms Country Market

 More than a dozen friendly neighbors showed up to oppose demolition

The cost to repair the barn for agricultural reuse approached $250,000, which would not provide a viable return on investment.  The current preferred plan is to donate the salvageable wood to the Emily Dickinson Homestead for an interpretive historically accurate barn raising on the property.

The one year delay does have an "escape clause" whereby the owner can come back in three or four months showing that there are no economically viable solutions to save the structure, and the delay could be lifted.

The Historical Commission seemed genuinely troubled over enacting the full delay, pointing out that Ms. Jones had already done many of the things an owner is expected to do AFTER the one year delay is imposed.  

Barn with 1 year stay of execution (left) Atkins new north location (right)


"Of All Places ..."

Fellow UMass journo -- and one of my favorite columnists -- Kevin Cullen seems to have run afoul of UMass cheerleaders with his latest column about a "stupid college kid" who made the grave mistake of aiding and abetting the current poster boy for satanic terrorists, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Three little words were spiked after initial publication.

Obviously when you talk about an uber rich guy sending his son to "elite schools" but then when it comes time for college sends him to "of all places" UMass Dartmouth, it kind of sends the message that it's not exactly the same as an "elite school."  Which of course it's not.

But you can't say that.   In the venerable Boston Globe.  Apparently.

Monday, July 21, 2014

When DUIs Converge

Heather Leupold, age 27,  arrested by Hadley PD last night Rt9/Rt116 intersection near Amherst town line

So if my weekly reports of drunk drivers arrested by Amherst Police all over our little town is not depressing enough for you, consider this past weekend Pelham and Hadley police also arrested impaired drivers who were only moments away from crossing the town line into Amherst.

 Seth Alison arrested by Pelham police for DUI on Saturday

Kind of like that level three sex offender arrested at Puffer's Pond earlier this month:  He was not one of our 24 registered sex offenders, as he lives in Southampton. 

And you wonder why I'm a fan of additional police officers (and firefighter/EMTs).


Amber Theriault stands before Judge Payne

Meanwhile, Judge Payne accepted a standard 24D plea deal (only available to 1st time offenders) this morning in Eastern Hampshire District Court from Amber Theriault, age 22, arrested by APD back in  mid-May for DUI in town center.

She was observed taking a really w-i-d-e turn onto Triangle Street from North Pleasant and when pulled over had all the common attributes:  smell of liquor, glassy eyes, slurred speech.  She also lost her balance when performing the Field Sobriety Test.

Ms. Theriault will lose her license for 45 days, pay $600 up front in fines and another $65/month for a year while on probation.  If she has no further incidents over the course of the year the DUI is dismissed. 

When asked by Judge Payne where she had her last drink she replied, "Stacker's Pub" in the heart of downtown Amherst.  And considering her breath test back at APD headquarters was .18% -- more than twice the legal limit -- she was pretty drunk when served that "last drink."

Stacker's Pub, 57 North Pleasant Street (building owned by Jamie Cherewatti)

Make That Over $100K

Cherry Hill Municipal Golf Course lost a tad more than the $87,739 I reported the other day.  Now add an additional $16,225 for a "Sand Pro Groomer" and the new total breaks the six-digit price point, coming in at $103,964 in tax dollars.  For the game of golf.  Ouch!

There's a Killer On The Road

Newman Galati aka @Newmasaur (Used without permission)

Amherst police only made one OUI Liquor arrest over the weekend but it was a doozy ... Newman Galati, age 22,  a repeat offender.  He had come over the Notch by Atkins Country Market in deep South Amherst heading toward Amherst town center not-all-that-late Saturday night driving erratically and with his headlights off.

Newman Galati, booking photo, courtesy APD

Amherst police pulled him over on South Pleasant Street (about 350 yards from my house) a beer can throw from town center and immediatley noticed the fresh front end damage to his vehicle.  He was arrested on a host of charges:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

And Then There Were None

Pat Kamins landlord, Rob Morra (on right)  Building Commissioner

Amherst Building Commissioner Rob Morra reports the most recent Rental Permit Bylaw enforcement actions taken by his office to bring into the compliance the final dozen properties (out of 1,300) has been successful.

Only one remains -- 84 Grantwood Avenue -- and they have told him the "application is in the mail."

 A dozen years ago the Board of Health made an ill fated attempt to bring about Rental Registration but it was mostly ignored; and after the contentious "Smoking Ban in Bars War" from a few years earlier the Board seemed reticent to take on the enforcement challenge.  

Naysayers with a vested interest claimed the current implementation of the common sense bylaw, with its nominal $100 annual fee, would be a logistical nightmare and that the Zoning Board would be overwhelmed with hearings to approve the parking component of the program. 

But all of that sound and fury has apparently signified nothing.

100% compliance now sets the stage for rental occupancy peak season when students return next month.  So the next big test is yet to come.