Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Early Coverage of Historic Preservation Votes

Scott Merzbach, "Amherst votes to spend CPA money on historic preservation," Hampshire Gazette, 12 May 2009
Last Night's Key Decisions:

Town Meeting voted to spend $337,800 from the Community Preservation Act account for a series of historic preservation, affordable housing and open space projects.

Of this total, $265,600 is aimed at various historic projects, many of which will help the town celebrate its 250th anniversary this year, said CPA Committee member Louis Greenbaum.

The projects at the historic West Cemetery and the preservation of historic buildings, Greenbaum said, honor Amherst's past and helps the town take pride in its accomplishments.

Town Meeting unanimously approved $25,000 for historic ironwork restoration at the cemetery and $30,000 for the town tomb reconstruction.

James Smith of Precinct 6 said the town tomb has sustained damage in recent years. "This is necessary to maintain that historic structure," Smith said.

Town Meeting members, though, had a lengthy discussion on appropriating $20,000 for landscape preservation at the cemetery before approving the expenditure by 128-61.

Mary Streeter of Precinct 8 and Vince O'Connor of Precinct 1, both members of the CPA Committee, said they were opposed to this spending, in part, because the CPA account was being reduced too much. "This is not something urgent to be done right away," Streeter said.

But James Wald of the Historical Commission said the cemetery represents a time capsule of Amherst's social values, aesthetics and history. "This town is in danger of losing an important resource," Wald said.

Town Meeting voted to spend $15,000 in CPA money for preparation of bid specifications for repairs to the Jones Library roof, $10,000 to study a climate control system for special collections at the library and $20,000 for the fourth of five yearly payments to pay for the preservation of historic documents.

Members rejected $7,000 for repair of the roof at the North Congregational Church.

Janet Chevan of Precinct 7 said she was uncomfortable with spending CPA money on a church building,

Smith agreed. "There is a definite separation of church and state issue here," Smith said,

Despite an effort to reduce the $65,000 for restoring the historic Civil War tablets, Town Meeting narrowly approved the full CPA expenditure by a 91-84 tally vote.

By a 95-70 tally vote, Town Meeting agreed to spend $30,000 for historic writers' walk signs that will recognize famous authors who have lived in Amherst.

Other items approved included $10,000 for nomination packages for expansion of the Dickinson Historical District and creation of an Amherst Depot District and $15,000 to complete an historic inventory of barns and other outbuildings.

Another $25,600 in CPA money will go for the third of five yearly payments for preserving the Kimball House on North East Street

Town Meeting unanimously also agreed to spend $47,200 in CPA money for affordable housing projects, of which $30,000 will be used for a Habitat for Humanity home being constructed on Stanley Street. The other $17,200 represents the minimum 10 percent set aside for future housing projects. Town Meeting members Rob Kusner and Jim Oldham both expressed concern that affordable housing is not being sufficiently funded.

Meanwhile, Town Meeting postponed consideration of Article 13, a petition submitted by O'Connor in support of increasing the state and federal gas tax, until after Article 30 is completed, likely sometime in late June.

Light Moment:

When a voice vote to call the question on the CPA spending on historic writers' walk signs seemed to be evenly divided, a Town Meeting member immediately shouted out for a count.

Moderator Harrison Gregg seemed taken aback because he had not yet announced which way he believed the voice vote went.

"I haven't counted it; how can you doubt it?" Gregg said.

After much laughter in the auditorium, Gregg called for a second voice vote, at which time he determined the ayes had won and the question could be called.

Words to Ponder:

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe notified Town Meeting that it would likely be adjourning to June 15, instead of the original June 1 date, at which time the fiscal year 2010 budget issues would be taken up.

"As everyone knows this is an absolutely extraordinary budget year," O'Keeffe said.

She said there are unprecedented unknowns in the budget, including the amount of state funding and whether local option taxes will be available, that could be resolved by the later date.

Next Up:

Next year's budget, along with capital spending items, will be considered.

May 14 update: the May 15 issue of the Bulletin (which requires no registration) includes some of the above in the context of all May TM actions: Scott Merzbach, "Town Meeting Wraps Up Until June":
A series of improvements to the West Cemetery, an increase in the density of residential units in downtown and village centers, better protections for transgender individuals and preservation of open parcels in the Lawrence Swamp area have been approved at annual Town Meeting. (read the rest)
It's often interesting to note which items are highlighted in briefer or later coverage. The Bulletin piece leads with the Cemetery improvements, which together are the largest category of historical preservation expenditures, even though they--with the possible exception of the landscape improvements--did not generate much debate.

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Video from ACTV.

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