Amherst Town Meeting backs library garden

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2016 3:39:59 AM

AMHERST –  Trustees for the Jones Library are officially advised to keep intact most of a memorial garden that has formed the building's back yard for the past 16 years, even if a planned expansion and renovation project disrupts the landscape.

By a 150-58 vote after a 90-minute discussion, Town Meeting at Monday's seventh session asked trustees to "substantially preserve" the Kinsey Memorial Garden and to create a committee of horticultural and gardening experts to help maintain what was created by Carol Pope in memory of her late husband, David Chapin Kinsey, in 2000.

Calling the garden a "prized community respite" since its installation, and with the need for more expert oversight, Pope brought the petition before Town Meeting out of concern that the garden is no longer being properly cared for, and that it might be destroyed by a future building project.

"Amherst residents, and other Valley folks, and out-of-town visitors consistently express appreciation for the botanically sophisticated Kinsey Garden,” Pope said. “It would be a draw for visitors to our town as part of the new downtown cultural district, and would encourage them to enjoy our restaurants, businesses, Amherst Cinema, as well as the history museum and its garden.”

But George Hicks, facilities supervisor for the Jones, said such an advisory will severely restrict the possible expansion and renovation.

Hicks explained that the garden was put under the maintenance of library staff, rather than volunteers, in 2014, after the garden fell into disrepair and became a breeding ground for what he termed “deviant behavior,” including drug activity, alcohol consumption and public urination.

"The work was necessary to make the garden safer and more appealing," Hicks said, adding that trustees remain satisfied with this arrangement.

While Pope’s original petition asked to “preserve in its entirety” the garden, Christopher Riddle of Precinct 2 asked to change this wording to "substantially preserve,” so as not to tie the hands of trustees and their architects who are working on the building project.

This amendment narrowly passed 93-86.

Another elected trustee, Tamson Ely said it could be years before any changes happen to the garden. "We're not taking away green space, we might consider moving it around," Ely said.

Even though the trustees own the garden, Select Board member Connie Kruger said the petition might place restrictions on the library project.

"We don't feel it’s necessary to pass this article recommending preservation of the garden," Kruger said, noting the trust she has in the trustees and Library Director Sharon Sharry.

Yet several Town Meeting members expressed their appreciation for the garden and worried about its fate.

Sarah McKee, a former trustees president, called the garden an oasis.

"The living sculpture is that the David Chapin Kinsey Memorial garden honors the memory of a beloved scholar and teacher,” McKee said. "Both his life and the Kinsey Garden mean a great deal to our town."

Maurianne Adams of Precinct 10 said the garden is a calming space, seasonally changing colors, featuring benches and walkways, "and lucky for us is a contribution to a growing cultural district."

"We need the garden, we need the greenscapes, we need some form of library, we need a community to bring together," Adams said.

Others claimed that trustees are citing the presence of homeless as a reason why library staff, rather than volunteers, should be in charge of maintaining the garden. 

Gerald Weiss of Precinct 8 said it would treading on dangerous ground to pave over green space for that reason.

"Yes, there are sometimes homeless people, and sometimes there are not," Weiss said. "We might as well shut down the bars while we're at it."

Trustee responds

One trustee said the vote on the memorial garden is a repudiation of the work done in recent years.

Trustee Jonathan McCabe said they are pleased with the work done by Hicks and other staff, and strongly disagree with “the suggestion that it’s not being taken care of.”

Pope said she, too, wasn't entirely satisfied with the vote, but appreciated the support.

"It's important we got a lot of the questions out in the open and that we got a lot of support for the garden," Pope said.

Rezoning vote

The decision related to the garden came as Town Meeting learned that its May 16 defeat of rezoning the Amherst Historical Society property at 67 Amity St. from general residence to general business, which was thought to prevent a sale of land from the society to the library for the building project, may be moot.

Peter Hechenbleikner, interim town manager, said a reexamination of town maps by the Planning Department shows there might be sufficient property held by the Amherst Historical Society that it could convey a portion of its property to the Jones Library without the need to rezone its property. A full field survey will be done to determine if this is the case.

That Town Meeting session was particularly contentious as members attempted to debate the merits of the expansion and renovation.

Hechenbleikner apologized to Town Meeting if the rezoning vote was, in fact, not needed.

Other action

In other business, Town Meeting approved 132-34 spending $30,000 in free cash to pay for consulting services for the Charter Commission. Though some questioned the need for a consultant, others praised what they hope will be an open and transparent process leading to recommendations about changes to town government.

Town Meeting approved 145-14 an amendment to the cluster subdivision bylaw that will create a more efficient process of review by the Planning Board for projects such as the Retreat student housing project that had been proposed for the Cushman section of Amherst.

A second zoning amendment that would have changed rules governing mixed-use buildings was sent back to the Planning Board for more study.

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




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