Saturday, September 27, 2008

Your Community Preservation Dollars at Work: North Amherst Community Farm

"Simple Gifts Farm" exemplifies the possibilities of collaboration between citizen's groups and Town bodies.

A citizens' group created the North Amherst Community Farm (NACF) in 2006 in order to conserve this piece of open space and historic agricultural land in the North Amherst village center. Funds came from contributions by residents, as well as the Commonwealth and Town of Amherst: Community Preservation Act money, for example, helped to provide an agricultural preservation restriction (APR), to ensure that the land would continue to be used for farming.

The Historical Commission also provided advice to NACF, successfully urging the owners to preserve and adaptively reuse or restore rather than (as planned) demolish decaying agricultural structures linking house and barn. In this case, the goal was not simply to save an old building for its own sake, but also to maintain historic views and the patterns of circulation of this typical New England layout.

In late 2006, Simple Gifts organic farm (1999) and NACF entered into a collaboration that allows the former to lease the land.

The third annual North Amherst Harvest Festival takes place here this Sunday, 28 September, from noon till 6 p.m.

The Community Preservation Act (2000) provides Massachusetts locales that adopt it with support for Open Space and Recreation, Historic Preservation, and Affordable Housing. Funds come from a progressive surcharge ranging from one to three percent, based on local property tax assessments but exempting the first $ 100,000 of assessed valuation. Participation has moreover traditionally earned communities state matching funds, derived from property transfers. Initially, all communities could earn a 100-percent match. However, as the number of participating locales has increased and property values decreased, the Commonwealth determined that, as of autumn 2008, only communities whose surcharge lay at the upper end of the scale would be eligible for matching funds. Amherst initially adopted the minimum one-percent rate, and cautiously increased the rate only to 1.5 percent in 2006. A measure on the November ballot now proposes to increase our surcharge to the maximum three percent, in order to increase amounts available from local resources and to ensure that we continue to receive matching funds. (Many of our neighboring communities, including Northampton, Hadley, and Leverett, already have three-percent surcharges in place.)

Adopting the measure in Amherst would mean an additional surcharge of only $ 55.87--or around 15 cents a day--for the average single-family house with an assessed value of $ 332,500.

Among the vital historic preservation projects for which we have used CPA funds are the restoration of the historic 1730 West Cemetery and the masonry of the 1889 Richardsonian Romanesque Town Hall.

The Amherst Historical Commission supported placing the referendum on the ballot but has not yet taken an official stance on the measure, as such. A local organization called "cpaYES!" has taken the lead in advocating for the measure.

No comments: