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No takers for South East Street land at Amherst foreclosure auction

A foreclosure auction of South East Street land planned for residential development ended abruptly with no one willing to meet the minimum bid price.

Though 14 bid packages were handed out at Tuesday morning’s auction, no bidders responded to the $500,000 opening bid for the 7.5 acres of land at 650 and 652 South East St.

The auction, administered by Aaron Posnik and Co. Inc., will resume Dec. 17 at 11 a.m. at the site.

The land was most recently owned by Amherst developer Scott Nielsen, whose company, Levi-Nielsen Co., obtained a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2008 to develop a project known as Strawberry Field, which was to have featured 17 condominiums, including five single-family homes and six duplexes.

But it was unclear whether the special permit could be automatically transferred to a buyer.

Many of the 30 people observing the auction are part of an organization called the South Amherst Conservation Association, which has been working to protect the open land adjacent to the Norwottuck Rail Trail.

“Our group is committed to trying to save this land,” said Carol Gray, a member of the association.

Gray said members of her group were prepared to bid, but, the parcels combined are assessed at only $277,300. There is also $10,165 in back taxes owed, according to town records.

If the bids begin at a lower price next month, others may step up, Gray said.

“We’re hoping with a lower sale price a land trust might be willing to assist,” Gray said.

She said the association might also raise money for the purchase by applying for grants and matching funds and seeking other contributions.

It is an important wildlife habitat, she said, with vernal pools and wetlands. It is one of the buffers for the people who use the rail tail, and provides an excellent view of distant hills.

Developing the land for housing could become more challenging, Gray said, as the state Department of Environmental Protection regulations have changed since Nielsen obtained his permits.

Stanley Rock, who grew up in the house that still remains on the property, attended the auction. He said he has followed the plans over the years, including those presented by Nielsen, as well as larger projects on the same property proposed by Jeffrey Flower in 1989 and 1990.

Rock said he believes developing the land, which was once Rock Farm, will be difficult because of a slope and extensive wetlands.

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