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Barn gone, but talk of its future continues in Amherst

JOSH KUCKENS
A barn located behind a rental property on Lincoln Ave in Amherst may soon be torn down despite claims that Robert Frost may have utilized the space as a studio.

JOSH KUCKENS A barn located behind a rental property on Lincoln Ave in Amherst may soon be torn down despite claims that Robert Frost may have utilized the space as a studio. Purchase photo reprints »

The Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday sent the case back to the Historical Commission after residents who live near the Lincoln Avenue site filed an appeal of Building Commissioner Robert Morra’s demolition permit.

The permit was issued to property owner You-Pan Tzeng after the Historical Commission decided in September that the barn didn’t have sufficient historical significance and that a year-long demolition delay would not be imposed.

Patricia Stacey, who lives at 280 Lincoln Ave., filed an appeal of the demolition permit, prompting the zoning board hearing. Stacey contended the Historical Commission was hasty in its decision, not realizing the barn’s significance, and that not all neighbors were notified of the hearing.

Because the barn was built by Warren Brown in the early 1900s, and possibly frequented by Brown’s friend, Frost, Stacey said she and others want there to be “remedies for the loss of a significant (structure) that was irrevocably compromised in the demolition.”

Tzeng took a risk when he went ahead with the demolition despite the appeal, said Associate Planner Nathaniel Malloy, who works with the Historical Commission.

Laura Lovett, an associate professor from the UMass History Department also argued that the barn was historically significant in that it was designed by a female architect, a rarity in that time period.

Malloy said he will try to schedule a new hearing for the barn in late January. He said there would be an opportunity for the public to speak at that time, but noted that without the structure still in place, it is unclear what remedies could be imposed if the commission reverses its position.

“At this point, it’s a difficult decision, because the barn is already down,” Malloy said.

It is also unknown at this point what action the Zoning Board might take following the hearing.

Zoning Board member Thomas Ehrgood, who heard the case along with Eric Beal and Hilda Greenbaum, said that reconsidering the case seems sensible. Ehrgood said that he believed the Historical Commission had remained silent on the issue of whether the barn was identified with Warren, a well-known and important public figure who authored histories and wrote newspaper article. If the barn had been discussed in terms of Warren’s stature, the barn could have qualified for protection under the demolition delay bylaw, Ehrgood said.

Unrelated tenants

Meanwhile, the Zoning Board granted a continuance, to Jan. 31, for an appeal of an order issued by Morra against Grandonico Properties LLC for violations of the town’s bylaw limiting single-family homes to four unrelated housemates.

The continuance will allow tenants at Gilreath Manor, many of whom are students at UMass, time to provide statements about living situations and alleged violations discovered in the fall.

Lawrence Farber, the attorney representing Grandonico Properties, requested the continuance as a means of reaching agreement with Morra and the tenants of Gilreath Manor that would nullify the Zoning Board’s involvement in the case.

The tenants were not present at the meeting, but were spoken for by UMass Senior Staff Attorney Carol Booth, who has been advising them.

Even with the continuance, $100 a day per violation fines will continue to accrue every day the case is not resolved.

A Sept. 13 fire in one of the units at Gilreath Manor led to the discovery of beds and personal items in the basements of several of the units.

An investigation led Morra to determine that the basements were being used as living quarters for unauthorized tenants, in violation of Section 12.15 of the town’s zoning bylaws.

The town’s attorney, Joel Bard, of Kopelman and Paige, said the only dispute is whether Grandonico Properties is responsible for the fines.

“The question is not whether you can have four unrelated people living in one apartment, but who is liable for paying the fine,” Bard said.

Farber, speaking on behalf of Grandonico Properties LLC , argued that the law unfairly puts the responsibility for zoning violations on the landlord.

According to Farber, Grandonico Properties had no way of knowing that the buildings were being used to house unauthorized tenants.

Gazette contributing writer Rachel Dougherty contributed to this article.

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