Percent for Art bylaw on hold pending special state legislation

  • Amherst Town Meeting this year approved a Percent for Art bylaw, which the attorney general’s office said will need special state legislation before it can be enacted. The new public art fund would designate 0.5 percent of the eligible borrowing costs for new or renovated municipal and school buildings. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

AMHERST — A bylaw adopted by Town Meeting to establish a pot of money to fund visual and performing arts in the community will need special state legislation before it can be enacted.

The attorney general’s office, which recently reviewed nine articles approved at annual Town Meeting, placed a hold on approving the Percent for Art bylaw, which would create the new public art fund by designating 0.5 percent of the eligible borrowing costs for new or renovated municipal and school buildings.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Select Board Monday that the special legislation language will be drafted by town counsel KP Law and should be ready for review at the board’s Monday meeting.

“They saw no issues with it, but they put it on hold, basically,” Bockelman said.

The Aug. 31 letter to Town Clerk Sandra Burgess, signed by assistant attorney general Kelli Gunagan, approved four zoning bylaw articles brought to Town Meeting by the Planning Board, two general articles that made changes to the affordable housing trust and dissolved the Public Works Committee, and the historic bylaw that expanded the local historic district to encompass neighborhoods near Lincoln and Sunset avenues.

In most cases the article were approved by the attorney general’s office as written, but some language in two zoning articles will have to be altered due to conflicts with state law.

In addition, the attorney general’s office postponed making a decision on the sanctuary community bylaw until Oct. 4. This will give the office more time to review the numerous similar bylaws adopted in communities across the state. The office usually has 90 days from the conclusion of Town Meeting to review articles.

Public Art Commission Chairman Rene Theberge said in an email that his board is waiting for the special legislation draft.

“At this point the town needs to craft language to meet the need for a special act that the Select Board can forward to the state Legislature,” Theberge said.

Then members can approach State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, the Democrats who represent the town in the State House, to urge passage of the special act.

“Once the language has been drafted, approved and submitted, then we’ll work with our state rep and state senator to get the legislation passed,” Theberge said.

The Percent for Art bylaw, similar to one that already exists and has funded more than 200 projects in Cambridge, is coming at a good time because three building projects, including a renovated and expanded Jones Library, a new Department of Public Works headquarters and a new South Amherst fire station, are in the planning stages. A new or expanded elementary school also remains a possibility.

The art would be installed at the sites, though the bylaw allows for exceptions to use other sites or keep money from the program in a fund to pay for future projects.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.