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Amherst to raze Hawthorne Meadow buildings; affordable housing eyed

Town Manager John Musante said this week that the town finally has been given the go-ahead to remove the structures at the property. Earlier the Massachusetts Historical Commission initiated a review that postponed demolition, originally slated for November.

“The next step is proceeding with the demolition process,” Musante said.

For more than two years, the 1850s farmhouse has been boarded up and a chain has blocked access to the driveway.

The nearly 7 acre property was purchased by annual Town Meeting in 2010 for $500,000 for recreation, which would be at the rear of the land closest to Wildwood School, and affordable housing, which would front the street.

After the demolition delay order in fall 2010, the town appropriated $20,000 to hire Coldham & Hartman Architects LLC of Amherst to assess the site. Bruce Coldham, a principal with the company, told town officials last June that the cost of renovating the home and adjacent barns would make it impossible for them to be converted into affordable housing units.

Amherst has already committed $90,000 of 2011 Community Development Block Grant money that will be used to remove the buildings and any hazardous materials on the site. Musante said the state commission’s decision allows the town to go out for a request for proposals to hire a contractor to do this work.

It appears likely that affordable housing would be the first element ready to go once the property is cleared. Musante said he anticipates that requests will come before the Community Preservation Act Committee for spending that would assist in any project.

These requests could come from entities such as Habitat for Humanity, which last year made an $80,000 request for the purchase of construction materials for two housing units there.

While the need for new ballfields for youth remains, Musante said this is on the back burner, in part because it is more challenging financially.

“The path to achieving affordable housing is much more clearly laid out,” Musante said.

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