Guest column Brian Adams: Community preservation dollars at work

  • Academy of Music

Published: 3/5/2020 5:00:19 PM
Modified: 3/5/2020 5:00:09 PM

Northampton is a wonderful city to live in thanks, in part, to the Community Preservation Act.

First approved in 2005 and reaffirmed in 2011, each year over a million community preservation dollars help fund open space protection, recreation, historic preservation and affordable housing in Northampton. These are projects that enhance the quality of our lives, protect our land, and help make Northampton, as the famous 19th century singer and actress Jenny Lind called it, “the Paradise of America.”

Let’s start with open space. Thanks to Northampton’s embrace of the CPA, 2,000 acres of beautiful and diverse Northampton woodlands, farms, fields and wetlands are now permanently protected and free from the pressures of development.

The benefits for recreation, wildlife, cleaner air and water, and climate change mitigation are enormous. Just recently the Community Preservation Committee voted to provide the funds to purchase 105 acres of the Pine Grove Golf course between Florence Road and Route 66.

With ambitious plans to plant hundreds of trees, establish an awesome trail network and engage in vital stream restoration, another jewel in Northampton’s public lands will be put in place.

Here’s the really cool thing: because Northampton’s kicking in our local share of the cost of land purchase, the state has awarded Northampton a $400,000 LAND grant, which stands for Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity. Without community preservation funds, that unique piece of property would be developed and whisked out of the public domain forever.

From the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area to the Mineral and Sawmill Hills to thousands of additional acres, Northampton residents have the CPA to thank for preserving so much of our beautiful land.

Is historic preservation your thing? Maybe you’ve been to the Academy of Music recently, perhaps for one of their Sundays in February winter arts series or their free KidsBestFest film festival during February school vacation week.

Did you know the Academy was built in 1891 and is the first municipally-owned theater in the nation? That beautiful restoration work that dazzles theatergoers has been funded, in part, by your community preservation dollars.

And how about our spectacular Forbes Library, which first opened its doors in 1894, and is the only public library in the United States to hold a presidential collection? Community preservation restoration efforts have included exterior structural repairs, roof replacement and window work to keep the library not just a book lover’s delight, but a feast for the eyes and structurally sound.

Be sure to check out Historic Northampton’s current “Making it on Main Street” exhibit, which tells the story of the people who have lived, worked, played and celebrated on Main Street. Again, your community preservation dollars have been crucial in the remarkable transformation Historic Northampton has recently made.

Let’s not forget Pulaski Park. I’m convinced Casimir Pulaski would be proud as could be of our community preservation efforts. The park was in desperate need for restoration and now, thanks to community preservation funds, it’s once again a go-to place for all to enjoy.

Then there’s recreation. Maybe you have a kid or grandkid kicking, throwing, or batting a ball around the fabulous expansive playing fields at Florence Fields off of Spring and Meadow streets. And how about the super fun kid’s playgrounds at Bridge Street and Jackson Street schools, Lampron Park, and, soon to be funded, Hampshire Heights? Thank you CPA! The CPA has also contributed immensely to the multiuse trail network, including the Jackson Street ramp, the bike path along the Mill River in Leeds, and the Northampton-New Haven Trail connection to Easthampton.

The critical need for affordable housing in Northampton has received a lot of press lately. Live 55 and the Lumberyard off Pleasant Street, the recently opened teen transitional housing across from Smith Vocational, the North Commons and 35 Village Hill Road units on the old Hospital Hill, have all benefited from community preservation dollars. And then there’s Habitat for Humanity — CPC has provided partial funding for 11 of their houses.

And here’s where community preservation money is so important: the hundreds of thousands of dollars we provide helps leverage tens of millions of state and federal dollars. Without our local support, crucial units of affordable housing would never be built.

The above are just a few gems of the 132 amazing projects the CPA has helped fund since Northampton voters approved the measure. For every dollar we’ve chipped in locally for a project, we’ve received approximately $10 back from various sources. How’s that for bang for the buck!

So how are these fabulous projects funded? Northampton property owners can’t help but notice the CPA surcharge on their quarterly property tax. That’s your share of funds for community preservation. How much you pay depends on the assessed value of your property. With the override passing on Tuesday, remember that your first $100,000 of value will remain exempt from taxation, and the CPA surcharge will go up approximately $4 a year for a property assessed at $300,000.

Who decides which projects to fund? A volunteer CPC consisting of your friends and neighbors, some elected, some appointed, meets twice a month during the fall, winter and spring to make recommendations to Northampton’s City Council.

Our process is open and transparent and we always encourage public comment.

Open space protection. Recreation. Historic preservation. Affordable housing. As chair of the Northampton CPC, I’d like to give a resounding shout out to our Northampton residents for their ongoing efforts to preserve our community.

Brian Adams is chair of the Northampton Community Preservation Committee.


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