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Amherst Town Meeting may consider eminent domain articles

Echo Village Apartments at 30 Gatehouse Rd. in Amherst.
KEVIN GUTTING

Echo Village Apartments at 30 Gatehouse Rd. in Amherst. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

— Town Meeting could get to consider large expenditures to preserve affordable housing for low-income residents and protect a large wooded tract in North Amherst from being developed as high-end student housing.

These eminent domain articles are among 10 petitions, each with signatures of at least 10 registered voters, that have been submitted to the town manager’s office in time to be taken up at annual Town Meeting, which begins in May.

Debra Roussel, assistant to the town manager, said each petition will next be reviewed by town counsel to ensure the petition language can be adopted by Town Meeting.

The most expensive proposal is the $3 million being sought to acquire Echo Village Apartments from Eagle Crest Property Management, which recently purchased the property.

The Echo Village Tenants Organization is proposing the purchase so the town would own the Gatehouse Road apartment complex and maintain the affordable units.

Of the 24 tenants, 19 receive federal Section 8 vouchers, and all tenants have been informed they must leave by March 31.

Another article asks that $1.2 million be used to acquire, from W.D. Cowls, a conservation restriction on more than 153 acres on Henry Street. A group calling itself North Amherst Neighbors would like to buy this land to keep the pristine site best known for being an entrance for the local salamander population.

Landmark Properties Vice President Jason Doornbos said the article likely wouldn’t affect The Retreat, the name of the project that could feature up to 170 cottage-style units that would be built on the property and rented to local college students.

“We are still looking into whether it could have any impact on our project, but at this point, we do not believe it will,” Doornbos said.

Though in the state’s Chapter 61 program, which provides discounted property taxes, the town would be expected to pay the full $6.5 million that Landmark is offering Cowls for the property.

Four Town Meeting articles focus on ongoing issues related to oversight of rental properties.

Precinct 1 representative Vince O’Connor is bringing two petitions, one that would revise the residential parking bylaw and another that would modify the rental housing information bylaw.

Melissa Perot, also of Precinct 1, is seeking to amend the nuisance house bylaw. Perot said the idea is to clarify that response costs for police will be imposed on landlords and property managers after a third calendar-year citation at a home. The existing bylaw contains a loophole that allows owners to avoid this penalty by initiating eviction proceedings, Perot said.

Steve Bloom of the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods has drafted a residential rental property permit system, which, as a petition, might compete against a similar concept being drafted by the Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group.

Bloom said this isn’t meant to supplant or compete with the working group’s efforts, which the coalition applauds for its diligence and good faith, but is instead to ensure voters will have a chance to enact a permitting system.

Vladimir Morales of Laurel Lane has a petition seeking to give voting rights to residents who are not documented American citizens. Town Meeting has approved similar petitions in the past, but appeals to the Legislature have never advanced.

Hwei-Ling Greeney, representing a group called Housing for All, is asking for what she calls “equitable social service funding” of $90,000 that would be divided by eight social service agencies.

The final two petitions ask to provide $30,000 for one year of bus service to the Amherst Survival Center and to rezone two lots near the intersection of Main and Gray streets to accommodate a possible move to that location by Amherst Media. The rezoning petition may not be needed if the Planning Board brings forward its own recommendation for these properties.

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