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Controversial South East Street land in Amherst may be permanently protected

The Community Preservation Act Committee this week recommended appropriating $125,000 from the CPA account to preserve the so-called Rock Dairy Farm at 650 and 652 South East St.

In combination with Kestrel Trust, state conservation funds, private donations and money raises from the sale of one or two building lots at the site, the hope is to reach the $501,000 price set by Greenfield Savings Bank for obtaining the land.

CPA Committee Peter Jessop said about five acres adjacent to the Norwottuck Rail Trail would be protected, leaving about 2.5 acres for a small one or two-home development.

The land protection is part of $587,000 in projects recommended for funding at annual Town Meeting, with other large items being $156,000 for protecting the 13-acre Brunelle property next to Plum Brook on Potwine Lane, $106,000 to help the Unitarian Universalist Society restore and redisplay its Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window “The Angel of the Lilies” and $53,999 for Amherst Media to archive and permanently preserve recordings that are deteriorating.

The preservation of the South East Street land could bring to an end a long process begun by the South Amherst Conservation Association, a private group that has long opposed development.

In 2008, developer Scott Nielsen obtained a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to develop a project known as Strawberry Field, which was to have featured 17 condominiums. But the bank foreclosed on the property and repurchased it at an auction earlier this year.

Carol Gray, a member of the association and a lead advocate, said 35 to 40 people attended the CPA meeting, showing that there is community support to save the land, which she calls an important wildlife habitat with vernal pools and wetlands.

One major item that was nixed by the CPA Committee was $159,000 to provide the town a match for rehabilitation of the North Common using a $530,000 state Parkland Acquisition and Renovation for Communities grant. Jessop said a majority of committee members want town staff to do more planning and seeking more public input.

“The urgency was perhaps not as great as for other projects,” Jessop said.

His committee also did not support an $80,000 request from Habitat for Humanity to pay for construction materials for two housing units at the Hawthorne Farm site on East Pleasant Street. Jessop said this was premature as the 1800s farmhouse there has not been torn down and no developer has yet been selected.

Other projects supported including $60,000 for improvements to Mill River Recreation Area, including new lifeguard chairs and shade structures, $21,401 to buy storage equipment and preserve Emily Dickinson’s dress at the Amherst History Museum, $14,000 for repairing a Jones Library slate roof and $10,000 for open space surveys and appraisals.

The committee began with a review of $1.11 million in proposals for historical, recreation, affordable housing and open space projects.

The lone item left to decide is $110,000 that would be used to renovate housing units at Ann Whalen Apartments owned by the Amherst Housing Authority.

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