TM will consider housing, drones
AMHERST — Acquiring Echo Village Apartments through eminent domain and ensuring that sufficient affordable housing exists in Amherst are aims of citizen petition articles annual Town Meeting will consider next month.
Besides a proposal to borrow $2.6 million to acquire Echo Village, there is a second eminent domain request to buy the 40 Dickinson St. property that until last year was Classic Chevrolet. Another article would ask the federal government to end the use of drones to carry out killings and to prohibit their use to collect personal data in Amherst.
Seven petitions were submitted to the Select Board by the deadline Monday at noon.
The idea of acquiring Echo Village by eminent domain was submitted by Precinct 8 Town Meeting member Gerald Weiss, former Select Board chairman. It comes a week after James Cherewatti, who owns Echo Village, turned down an offer from an unidentified affordable housing developer working with the town to purchase the 24-unit property, which has been home to several low-income tenants.
Weiss said a similar effort to buy the property last year should have been approved, and if it had been, Cherewatti might have agreed to the sale.
Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1 submitted five articles, including one that would spend $750,000 to buy the former Classic Chevrolet from Amherst College, which acquired the property in December and will use it as a garage for its buildings and grounds department.
O’Connor said he wants to restore a place residents can purchase and service vehicles. “We now have a town of 40,000 with no automobile dealerships,” O’Connor said.
His other four articles, like the Echo Village purchase, focus on what Town Meeting can do to allow Amherst to continue meeting a state mandate to maintain 10 percent affordable housing.
O’Connor proposes to increase the 1.5 percent Community Preservation Act surcharge to 3 percent through a ballot measure in November. The additional money generated would be dedicated to the creation of affordable housing.
Another article suggests the creation of an Affordable Housing Protection Program, which would provide a tax credit of up to $1,000 per property for owners who keep units available for people with mobile federal Section 8 vouchers. Another article would support state legislation, already filed, to count homes where families with Section 8 vouchers live as part of the town’s inventory of subsidized housing.
O’Connor’s final article proposes suspending the self-certification checklist aspect of the rental permitting bylaw until a committee, made up of at least four tenant Town Meeting members, including a college student, reviews it.
“When tenants receive a notice that apartments will be inspected, they should be given notice about what inspections are about and be given a set of objective criteria,” O’Connor said.
Town Meeting member Frank Gatti of Precinct 8 submitted the article related to the use of drones, or unmanned aircraft.
“Saying we have a war that’s against terrorism anywhere in the world and that we can take military action at any time doesn’t feel like due process,” Gatti said.
The article would restrict the operation of “drones capable of violating the constitutional rights of the residents in the airspace over Amherst” and prohibit the purchase of drones that could be used for surveillance or to cause injury or harm.
It also calls on U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey to introduce a resolution to end “extrajudicial killing” by use of drones.
“I’m pretty outraged that the relatively small number of people are assassinating people around the world,” Gatti said.
Gatti said the article would also prevent grants that would be used to purchase drones for law enforcement purposes. Gatti said devices being used for scientific purposes, such as weather observation, would be exempt.
Police Chief Scott Livingstone said the department has no intention of purchasing or using drones, though any federal agencies that come to town wouldn’t be affected by the action.
An eighth petition could also appear on the warrant, though it was submitted after the noon deadline. It calls for approval to spend $35,000 to create a permanent spur on a Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus route to the Amherst Survival Center and for a shelter with seating, lighting and a call box.
Helen Berg, a candidate for Select Board, submitted the article because she said she doesn’t trust that PVTA and UMass Transit will continue providing the service, which it has done on an experimental basis since fall, beyond May 9.
“Maintaining adequate transportation to this essential facility is required by both Amherst Survival Center participants and other residents of the town of Amherst,” she said.