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Amherst to vote on funding for preserving open space, town common improvements

— Acquiring two properties that will protect open space and promote recreational opportunities in South Amherst and improving a public gathering spot in downtown are part of $1.12 million worth of projects expected to come before Town Meeting next month.

David Ziomek, the town’s director of Conservation and Development, said Wednesday that the plan is to leverage $391,672 from the town’s Community Preservation Act account to access state money that will be used to fund these projects.

The land preservation includes a 20-acre property at 615 Bay Road located at the base of the Mount Holyoke Range.

“The big theme here is part of the Mount Holyoke Range state park is one of the target acquisitions and preservation areas for the town of Amherst,” Ziomek said.

The town would apply $151,500 in CPA funds toward the purchase, with the remaining $353,500 coming from a state grant known as the Local Acquisition for Natural Diversity grant.

The property, which is hayed on its flat portions and is wooded as it rises steeply up to the range, would eventually include a scenic overlook for picnicking and bird watching. Once acquired, the town would also install a gravel parking area along the road and connections to nearby trails that border the Baby Carriage Brook.

Owned by the family of Benjamin Ricci, who was instrumental in the closing of the Belchertown State School, if the land is not protected it could see between three and five single-family homes built on it Ziomek said.

The second land preservation proposed is the acquisition of a portion of the 26-acre Brunelle property on Potwine Lane.

This would mean buying 16 acres that include both a hayfield and a red maple forest. Kestrel Land Trust submitted a $163,000 partnership grant from the state’s Department of Conservation Services, so the town is expected to apply $81,500 in CPA for the match.

Kristin DeBoer, Kestrel’s executive director, said the trust is always pleased to partner with the town on conservation work.

“We are hopeful that both state and town funding come through for this important project along the tributaries of the Fort River,” DeBoer said.

The Kenneth Cuddeback Trail runs nearby and Ziomek said there could be new trails connected to this. The acquisition is also valuable because it remains important to protect the Plum Brook corridor, which is a tributary to the Fort River. The land will be available for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Ziomek said the town will seek additional CPA funding at next spring’s annual Town Meeting for the remaining 10 acres.

Finally, with a Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, the town is hoping to complete a $528,907 project to rehabilitate the North Common, a portion of the Town Common where weekly peace vigil and annual events, such as the lighting of the Merry Maple in December and the Veterans Day ceremony.

“It’s used for a number of celebrations and memorial-type events,” Ziomek said. “We want to make improvements that have a lasting effect.”

These would include accessible sidewalks at the edges of and through the North Common, more benches and trees, and replacement of the tree wells that were built from railroad ties in the 1960s.

For this project, $158,672 would come from the CPA account, with $15,000 drawn immediately and the remainder as debt that would be paid back with future CPA money.

Both the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Business Improvement District are supporting this project because of its visibility to those coming to downtown. The BID is committed to either a one-time donation or ongoing maintenance, Ziomek said.

“This is right outside the front door of Town Hall,” Ziomek said.

Town officials should learn in October if the grant application is successful. If unsuccessful, the appropriation would be removed from the warrant. If the town obtains the money, the design would be completed by June 30 and construction, by a company hired by the town, completed by June 30, 2014.

Ziomek said there will be public input during the design stage.

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