Echo Village owner open to ‘options’

“I am still open to exploring options and keeping a dialogue open in regards to the future of Echo Village,” James Cherewatti, who runs Eagle Crest Property Management, said in an email to the Gazette.

Eagle Crest purchased the 30 Gatehouse Road property, and its 24 units, in January 2013 for $3 million from Jerald Gates. The complex was home to 19 families with federal Section 8 vouchers. Most of those families were forced to find homes elsewhere over the past year.

On Monday, Town Manager John Musante announced that no deal had been reached with Cherewatti and, because of this, the town had not submitted its application for a $800,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, three-quarters of which would have been applied to the Echo Village purchase.

The remaining $200,000 would have been used for social service needs and administrative costs, with $20,000 for emergency funds, which would go to fuel assistance and other basic needs, $35,000 for the food pantry at the Amherst Survival Center, and $70,000 for the Craig’s Doors emergency homeless shelter.

Cherewatti said in his email that he was not aware that social service money was contingent on his agreeing to a sale prior to Feb. 14, the state’s CDBG application deadline.

“I understand and appreciate the town’s goal of providing more affordable housing,” Cherewatti wrote. “However, I was surprised to learn that the funding of other town services was dependent upon a sale of Echo Village. This was not made clear to me in previous meetings with town officials.”

These needs may still be met through a special appropriation that would be made at the annual Town Meeting.

On Thursday, the Budget Coordinating Group, made up of members of the Select Board, Finance Committee and Amherst School Committee, as well as Musante and Schools Superintendent Maria Geryk, agreed to support the framework of such a Town Meeting warrant article.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer said that this group’s discussion centered around how best to appropriate money for at least the operations of the homeless shelter and the emergency funds. The Select Board is expected to discuss this further Monday night.

Musante said Friday that both Echo Village and Rolling Green Apartments, where more than three dozen additional low-income families have lived, remain priorities for investment to ensure the town has a good supply of affordable housing.

“Our objective remains preserving as many of the units at Echo Village and Rolling Green as possible.”

Musante said not getting CDBG money was an opportunity lost, as the $600,000 was one piece of a larger funding puzzle being assembled for an acceptable offer to Cherewatti. The town is still seeking $750,000 in Community Preservation Act money that Town Meeting could be asked to appropriate for a similar purpose.

Musante said he does not know of any private developer, other than the unnamed affordable housing developer the town was working with, who is interested in purchasing the Echo Village property. He said he hopes Cherewatti will be willing to eventually make a sale the town can get behind.

“I’m a firm believer that actions speak much louder than words,” Musante said.

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