Public Weighs In On Community Proposals As CPAC Begins Deliberations On What To Fund In The Coming Year

Architects rendering of a proposed addition to the North Amherst Library. A project to repair walls prior to renovation drew several public speakers at the CPAC public hearing on 11/12/20 Photo: amherstma.gov

The Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) held a public hearing on November 12 to receive feedback from residents on 11 final proposals  for CPAC funding for FY 2021.  The Committee also began its deliberations on funding of the projects through a preliminary straw vote to indicate degree of interest at the moment. 

The meeting was held as a Zoom webinar and was recorded.

Participating were CPAC  voting members Sarah Marshall (Chair), David Williams, Sam McLeod, Ana Devlin Gauthier, Sarah Eisinger, Andrew McDougall, Katie Allan Zobel, Robin Fordham and Diana Stein.  Also participating were  Procurement Officer Anthony Delaney, Finance Director Sean Mangano,  Comptroller Sonia Aldrich, Holly Bowser, and several members of the public.

The meeting focused on 11 proposals for funding for the next fiscal year.  A comprehensive summary of the projects can be viewed here

CPAC has $1.462 million to allocate among new projects after debt service for previous projects. In the coming weeks, the Committee will decide which of the applications will be funded and for what amounts.  The total amount available  is larger than anticipated, as a  result of an increased match of over $300,000 from the State. 

The proposals under consideration are listed below. The number in parenthesis is the CPAC reference number of the funding category in the presentation.

1.Supportive Housing (#1) Phase III : Amherst Community Connections  $226,710

2.Supportive Housing (#2) Project Funding, Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust $800,000

3. Historic Preservation (#4): Jones Library Special Collections. 1,000,000

4. Historic Preservation (#5): Restoration Goodwin Memorial Church $18,000

5.Historic Preservation/Recreation (#6) Mill River Trail , District One Neighborhood Association $51,500

6.Historic Preservation (#8): North Amherst Library Wall Repairs, Town Of Amherst DPW,  $10,000

7. Historic Preservation (#9): Town Hall Front and Side Steps, Town of Amherst Facilities Department, $265,000

8. Historic Preservation (#10): Roof Repair at Town Hall, Munson Library, North Amherst School. Town of Amherst Facilities Department, $408,500

9. Historic Preservation /Recreation (#11): North Common Project. Town of Amherst Conservation Department.  $500,000

10. Recreation (#12).  Groff Park Lower Pavilion. LSSE. $45,000

11.Recreation (#13) Mill River Pool Repair.  Town of Amherst DPW.  $65,000

Public Hearing
16 people spoke about the projects. In addition, 21 letters in support of or in opposition to funding of specific projects can be found here. (look in folder 2020-11-12). 

Speaking in Support: 
Amherst Community Connections:  Laura Baker and Mary Sayer

Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust -John Hornik, Laura Baker and Ginny Hamilton

Jones Library, Ginny Hamilton

Goodwin Church – Jessica Mix Barrington

Mill River Trail – Lisa Pierce Bonifaz, John Gerber, Sky Arndt Briggs, Janet Keller, John Fabel, and David Sharken

North Amherst Library – Sky Arndt Briggs, Lisa Pierce Bonifaz, Meg Gage , John Gerber,and Mary Sayer

Roof Restorations – Janet Keller

North Common Project – Gabrielle Gould

Groff Park Pavillion – Janet Keller

Mill River Pool – Janet Keller

Speaking in Opposition:
Jones Library, Terry Johnson and Toni Cunningham
North Common Project – Toni Cunningham

The two projects that received the most public comment were two located in North Amherst: a proposal to develop a historic trail along the Mill River and a proposal from the DPW to make repairs at the North Amherst Library before it undergoes renovations funded by a private donor.  John Gerber, speaking about the historic trail noted that projects like this promote a sense of place which in turn develops a commitment to stewardship. Sky Arndt Briggs noted that the area was the center of Amherst’s historic industry and also the locale of a dissident church. She said that there is much important history here that remains to be written and that is worth preserving.  Nearly all the people who spoke in support of the library repairs, which are necessary before the renovations can take place, noted that the historic library is an important community center and a gathering place for families and that many of their children learned to read there and participated in the library’s summer programs. 

Those who spoke in opposition to the Jones Library proposal noted that they did  support spending to protect the Jones’ special collections but they did not believe the proposed project would do that.  They  noted that the proposal will only address the problem of special collections several years up the road and that the collections are endangered now.  They noted that when Holyoke had a similar problem, the city arranged to move their collections to Holyoke Community College.  Both Johnson and Cunningham urged the Jones to come back with an alternative proposal that would provide immediate protection for the special collections. 

Deliberations Begin
Following the public hearing and a discussion of the current financials, voting members of CPAC participated in a straw poll, indicating their interest in each of the projects by assigning each a number from 1-5 with one indicating the lowest interest and five being the highest.  Those indicators are provided in the table below.  The table indicates that while some members clearly favored certain projects over others, when a numerical tally was calculated there wasn’t much separating the most favored project from the least.   This was merely a straw vote to get a sense of the committee. The indicators are non-binding and should not necessarily be taken as a measure of how members will vote after further discussion.  Nor does this preliminary inquiry give any sense of the amounts at which projects might be funded as the committee has the discretion to fund projects at amounts other than what was requested.

Nonetheless the ranking that resulted from this straw poll (with average indicator value in parenthesis) is as follows. Note that for the purposes of this straw poll, the roof repair projects that were part of a single proposal were separated out as three separate projects.

1, Amherst Municipal Housing Trust (4.6)
2. Mill River Pool Repair (4.3)
2. Goodwin Memorial Church Restoration  (4.3)
2. North Amherst Library Wall Repair (4.3)
5.  Amherst Community Connections Affordable Housing (4.2)
5. Jones Library Special Collections (4.2)
5. North Common Project (4.2)
8. Roof Repairs At Munson Library (3.9)
9. Groff Park Lower Pavilion (3.7)
10. Town Hall Front and Side Steps (3.6)
11.. Mill River Trail (3.4)
12.  Roof Repair At Town Hall (3.3)
13.  Roof Repair at North Amherst School (2.3)

Record of the first straw vote representing indicators of interest for the nine voting members of CPAC. Five indicates the highest interest and one indicates the lowest. Photo: screen shot from CPAC Zoom meeting on 11/12/20

The Deliberations will continue and a vote is likely at the next CPAC meeting on November 19. Public comment is welcome.

The final report to the Town Council will be submitted by the Council’s  December 3 meeting. 

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