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Amherst officials to decide whether to buy 154-acres of Cushman "forest" for $6.5M

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
Amherst Town Manager John Musante says he is encouraged by the response of the University of Massachusetts in agreeing to pay for two additional town ambulances, provide more joint police patrols and create a new mobile police team to prevent large-scale disturbances off campus this spring.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Amherst Town Manager John Musante says he is encouraged by the response of the University of Massachusetts in agreeing to pay for two additional town ambulances, provide more joint police patrols and create a new mobile police team to prevent large-scale disturbances off campus this spring. Purchase photo reprints »

Town Manager John Musante said Tuesday that town counsel Kopelman and Paige recently determined that a revised purchase-and-sale agreement between W.D. Cowls, Inc. of North Amherst, and Landmark Properties of Athens, Ga., signed April 23, constitutes a bona fide offer.

Landmark has proposed constructing 170 cottage-style homes in a project that would be known as The Retreat on land between Henry Street and Flat Hills Road. Cowls has managed the land as part of its timberland for decades,

Previously, town counsel had determined that a bona fide offer was not in place, meaning the town couldn’t consider whether to pursue its right of first refusal, but after changes to the original notice of intent to sell, Musante said, it is time to make a decision.

The land has been in the state’s Chapter 61 program which gives the property owner discounted property taxes for managing it as forest, and gives the town a right of first refusal when it is removed from that program. Musante said if the right of first refusal is exercised, the town would be obligated to match the purchase price.

Amherst’s Planning Board Wednesday will be the first board to decide whether the land is valuable enough in its current state to recommend that the town acquire it. The Conservation Commission is expected to follow suit a week later. These recommendations will then be used by the Select Board, which should make its decision at the July 29 meeting.

Annual Town Meeting rejected efforts brought by a group known as Save Historic Cushman to preserve the land, with a petition article calling for a $1.2 million conservation restriction. This was dismissed by the legislative body. At the session, both the Select Board and Finance Committee recommended against any spending and taking the property by eminent domain.

If the town decides not to pursue purchase of the land, it is expected that the municipal permitting process for the development will begin, with Landmark filing development plans.

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