(11/11/07) The Select Board met at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7th in the Middle School music room prior to Town Meeting. Gerry Weiss, Rob Kusner, Anne Awad, Alisa Brewer and Hwei-Ling Greeney were present, as was Town Manager Larry Shaffer.
It was decided that consideration of the Select Board recommendations on articles 13, 14 and 19 would be put off until November 15th, because no one was available to speak to those articles as all relevant parties were at a Planning Board meeting.
Mr. Kusner and Ms. Brewer recused themselves from this discussion and left the room.
Mr. Weiss said that the club was seeking to change its liquor license type from “club” to “restaurant.”
Faculty Club Manager Dennis Scott spoke briefly about the club’s history and its high-quality food and service. He said that the impetus for the license change is based on a desire to reach out to the larger community in order to increase revenues. He said that as the only non-academic and non-student-specific entity on campus, the Faculty Club gets neglected in UMass budget, and that a full restaurant liquor license and the ability to bring in the public might help it to improve its finances. He said that the club is the first impression of the University for many new faculty members, distinguished visitors and guests. He said that undergraduates are not allowed to use the club except as part of an official campus function, and that that would not change with the new license.
Mr. Weiss asked if it were true that there would be no new tax revenues paid to the Town. Mr. Scott said that that was true, but that the club pays sales taxes on food and liquor which go to the State and then indirectly benefit communities. Mr. Weiss said there may be concern that the club would now be taking business from local restaurants that pay local taxes. Ms. Awad said that if a liquor license is available, then she didn’t believe that would be a legitimate complaint. Mr. Scott said he felt that there was enough business for all the restaurants to thrive. Mr. Weiss said that the Faculty Club did have a right to the license.
Ms. Greeney said she had been to the restaurant once and thought very highly of it. She said it was an asset to the community. She moved to approve the change of license from an all-alcohol club license to an all-alcohol restaurant license. The vote to approve the change was 3 in favor, 0 opposed.
Ms. Brewer and Mr. Kusner returned after the vote and were told of the results. Mr. Kusner appeared displeased.
Mr. Weiss asked Mr. Shaffer to talk about the status of the eviction order for David Keenan of Shays Street.
Mr. Shaffer recapped the recent history of the issue. He said that a year ago, the Town successfully petitioned the court to complete foreclosure on the property in compensation for 12 years of unpaid property taxes, totaling about $60,000. He said that Mr. Keenan had exhausted the right of redemption and that the court had allowed him ample time and that he had missed every deadline. He said that the eviction process had begun this past summer, and that Mr. Keenan contested that through the housing court. He said that it was negotiated that Mr. Keenan would pay back the full tax obligation, and that the Town would not oppose his petition to the court to reinstate title on the property and to vacate the foreclosure order. He said that Mr. Keenan met the obligations, and paid back about $64,000 in two payments. Mr. Shaffer said that it was Mr. Keenan’s obligation to petition the court to set aside the foreclosure order and that the Town would not initiate that, and that Mr. Keenan had failed to do so. Mr. Shaffer said that the Town wanted to inspect the property in preparation for the vacating of the foreclosure order so that the condition of the property would be known at the time the order was set aside, so that no representations about its condition and the Town’s obligation could be made subsequent to the title vesting back to Mr. Keenan. Mr. Shaffer said that Mr. Keenan contested that, but that the housing court ordered the inspection to take place, and that the Town had conducted them. He said that from both the health inspection and building inspection perspective, the house was found to be uninhabitable and was condemned on both counts. He said that there were a litany of problems, including the fact that the roof trusses had been removed, which he said was a serious health and safety violation, and that the roof could collapse with snow or strong wind. He said that sink fixtures emptied directly into the basement without any pipes. He said that whole sections of the house were opened up to nature and the elements, and that sections of the basement wall were removed. He said that once the house was condemned, Mr. Keenan appealed to the court seeking for the Town to pay for his housing because the house is still Town property, but that that was dismissed. Mr. Shaffer said that the court also ordered an electrical inspection of the property, and that that would take place next week. Mr. Shaffer said that the Town has not stood in the way of Mr. Keenan taking back title of the property, and that the court has ordered inspections to protect the health and safety of the occupants. He said there is a question as to whether a child attending the Amherst schools lives there, which is uncertain, but furthered the health concerns. Mr. Shaffer said Mr. Keenan was told to comply with building and health codes, with the pending issue of electrical code issues as well, before the house could be inhabited again. Mr. Shaffer said that there has been some public suggestion that the Select Board was involved in the issue and affected how the rules are being applied, and he said he wanted to make sure the public knows that that is false and that the Select Board has had no involvement.
In response to a question, Mr. Shaffer said that Mr. Keenan has satisfied the tax payment conditions required to regain title, and that the Town would not challenge that, but that the Town also won’t initiate it. He said that the Town can’t convey property outside of a vote by Town Meeting, but that the courts can vacate the foreclosure and let the title vest back to Mr. Keenan.
Mr. Weiss asked if the Town is required to do the repairs because it holds the title. Mr. Shaffer said no, and that that issue had been resolved clearly in housing court. Mr. Weiss said he was concerned that because it was the Town’s house, it would be the Town’s problem. Mr. Shaffer said it would have been the Town’s problem if Mr. Keenan had not paid his taxes, and said that that issue brought about the eviction process, because “we needed to get him out of there while we own the house in order to take care of the house.”
Mr. Weiss asked if Mr. Keenan can work on the house. Mr. Shaffer said that he (Mr. Shaffer) had authorized a building permit and that Mr. Keenan was welcome to proceed. Mr. Shaffer said he can’t imagine that the house could be damaged more than it already is, and said that Mr. Keenan has to follow the rules and work with a legitimate building permit and have the repairs inspected by the Town to ensure code requirements are being met. Mr. Shaffer said he had no intention of enforcing more or fewer laws with Mr. Keenan than with anyone else.
There was considerable discussion about details of the proposed committee charge. As no copy of the charge was available for the audience, it was difficult to follow along with the discussion. In general, Mr. Kusner was proposing an expansion of the charge of the Aquifer Protection Committee, and proposing that that committee would be superseded by this new committee. There was some tweaking of language to clarify that the committee would make recommendations to the Select Board rather than directly implementing any recommended changes. There was also discussion about how much expertise required of potential committee members needed to be specified within the charge, as well as how the committee would be comprised. It was agreed that those who served on the recent Watershed Task Force would be among the members. Ms. Brewer suggested that due to the expertise required, the committee should have Special Municipal Employee (SME) status from the outset, and Mr. Weiss agreed and said that the committee should be asked to have a request for such on file. He said that granting SME status should be a separate motion.
The vote to approve the committee charge was unanimous.
A request from the State sought the Select Board’s approval to reduce the statutory notification period from 120 days to 60 days for the intended purchase of an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) on W.D. Cowls land on Route 116 in North Amherst. Approval also required the public announcement of that reduction.
[Note: this APR was the subject of Article 27 at the Annual Town Meeting in the spring, where $90,000 of CPAC money was approved to pay the Town’s share, while the State would pay $360,000.]
Ms. Brewer noted that she is personal friends with Cinda Jones of W.D. Cowls, and said she didn’t think that had any bearing on the issue.
Ms. Greeney asked if there was anything the Town needed to do prior to the transaction that would be affected by the shortened timing. Mr. Shaffer said there was not, and that it is better for such transactions to occur sooner rather than later, and that he had no opposition to it.
The vote to approve reducing the notification time from 120 days to 60 days was unanimous, and an announcement of that was read aloud.
Mr. Kusner asked about proposed amendments to the zoning articles by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA.) Mr. Weiss said that the ZBA had met and wanted to propose some amendments, and that he had heard that the Moderator might not allow those motions.
Mr. Kusner said that he head heard that the ZBA may seek to divide Motion B of Article 15. [Note: this is the Spring Street rezoning article. Motion B proposes that hotels, motels and inns be allowed by right in the General Business district.] He suggested that since the Select Board had already voted on that, perhaps they should consider a new position in light of the proposal to divide. Mr. Weiss said he was uncomfortable to do so without having any language for such, and said that if the amendment is allowed, any member could speak to his or her opinion about it as an individual. Mr. Kusner expressed concern about the results of the original vote being expressed without clarification, should there be an amendment. Mr. Weiss said that it would be made clear that their vote had been on the original unamended article.
The meeting adjourned at 7:27 p.m. The next Select Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 15th in the Middle School music room, prior to Town Meeting,
-- Stephanie O’Keeffe