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Forums set for Amherst North Common, rental proposal

Despite being in the heart of downtown and the site of popular community events, the North Common hasn’t been refurbished in decades.

Railroad ties are used as tree boxes and sitting walls, with exposed tree roots posing tripping hazards. There are many areas of compacted dirt where grass should be, and few areas for people to gather.

“That portion of the common has taken a beating over the years and there’s not been a lot of effort to bring it back to life,” said Senior Planner Christine Brestrup.

But the space near Town Hall, within walking distance of shops and restaurants and bordered by prime parking lots, is now the focus of a restoration effort.

A public forum will be held Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library.

Interest in the project was sparked last year when the town applied for a $513,907 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities state grant to fund it, but was rejected and advised by state officials to get more public opinion.

Associate Planner Nathaniel Malloy said the project plans were examined by the Historical Commission and the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission, but staff never had the opportunity to reach out to residents.

This time around, there will be at least two forums, the other likely to happen in about a month.

“We’ll get a list of challenges and come up with a concept,” Malloy said.

Those interested can offer suggestions for the area bordered by the Spring and Main parking lots and Boltwood Avenue and South Pleasant Street. It is the site of a long-running weekly peace vigil and the annual Merry Maple celebration.

Officials plan to resubmit the application in July for what would be a two-year process. The first year would be spent designing the changes and the second year would be used to build whatever is proposed.

Brestrup said she will be recording all comments during the meeting and showing slides of how the site used to look. Refreshments are expected to be served.

Meanwhile, the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group will hold its own public forum Tuesday to bring residents up to date on progress it is making toward crafting a rental registration bylaw. It will also discuss whether the town should continue keeping on the books the bylaw limiting homes to four unrelated housemates.

That forum will be held at 7 p.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall.

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