Amherst Media ends suit over building site with insurance settlement

  • An artist’s rendering shows the headquarters Amherst Media aims to build on the main Street site.

Staff Writer
Published: 1/12/2022 8:55:12 PM
Modified: 1/12/2022 8:54:20 PM

AMHERST — A Hampshire Superior Court lawsuit that pitted Amherst Media against a former neighbor and developer, and which reached the Massachusetts Appeals Court in November, has been resolved with a financial settlement.

Through its insurance, Amherst Media, which operates the town’s public access station, agreed to pay $12,000 to Jerry Guidera, who in 2013, on behalf of his mother, Barbara Guidera, sold the nonprofit two Main Street lots where it intends to construct a new headquarters.

The settlement brings to an end the legal actions that began in January 2018 when Amherst Media sued Jerry Guidera, alleging he devalued the two parcels and possibly made them unsuitable for a building that will house its production facility and technology center.

A year later, Guidera filed counterclaims under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, demanding that Amherst Media pay damages, costs and attorney’s fees related to the ongoing lawsuit. Guidera claimed an abuse of process, malicious prosecution, tortious interference with advantageous contractual relations and civil conspiracy.

Guidera said this week that the settlement shows what Amherst Media did to him was wrong, that the organization is a “bad neighbor” and that it uses an approach that is combative for no reason.

“Amherst Media is a bad neighbor with no sense of commitment to the community they’re chartered to serve,” Guidera said.

Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault issued a statement on behalf of the organization that oversees the public access, educational and government television channels for the town, and broadcasts numerous public meetings and local programs.

“The $12,000 settlement releases Amherst Media from all future judicial proceedings of any kind, and is not to be construed as any admission of liability and liability is expressly denied,” Lescault said. “The settlement was paid by the insurance carrier solely to avoid the burden and expense of prolonged litigation.”

Amherst Media is planning to construct a 1½-story Greek Revival building on the Main Street properties, a move necessitated by an eviction notice it received from its longtime College Street site by building owner Eversource in August 2010. The Local Historic District Commission has issued a certificate of appropriateness so the building can go up in the Dickinson Local Historic District, and the Planning Board has approved site plans for the building, which could be built at a cost of $1.5 million.

The lawsuit began in Land Court in early 2018 when Amherst Media argued that there were illegal encroachments by abutting properties onto the Amherst Media site, including plantings, a shed, a wall and fence, and a driveway, as well as water drainage.

A year later, after the case was moved to Hampshire Superior Court, Guidera filed counterclaims. While those were dismissed by Judge John A. Agostini, who in his decision stated that Amherst Media’s actions were “viable and reasonable,” the state’s appeals court ruled in November that the case should remain active, and the parties reached the settlement soon after.

Guidera previously lived in the Hills House home, which he renovated and which abuts those Main Street lots.

Guidera said he believes he could have received significantly more money in the settlement, calling what he faced a “shakedown” and effort by Amherst Media to muzzle him. But he understands Amherst Media is in the midst of a capital campaign for its new home.

“I accepted this token settlement from Amherst Media rather than crippling them with a costly lawsuit because I believe there’s still a great need in our community for public access to government and a forum for open debate on the issues affecting us all,” Guidera said.

A second lawsuit involving Amherst Media against the town, related to the issuing of the certificate of appropriateness, remains active. That lawsuit was filed out of concern that the commission should have granted a certificate of hardship instead, and that the certificate of appropriateness could be on shaky legal ground if neighbors who oppose the project file litigation.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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