By Maura Keene
The Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss revising the policy for disposal of town-owned property that is no longer seen as needed for public use. Although the agenda for the February 6 Finance Committee meeting has not yet been posted, as of this writing, committee members expressed an interest in reviewing the policy on surplus property at their January 23 meeting.
The existing policy was written in 2018 and contains references to the Select Board and Town Meeting, which are not applicable to the current government. A draft revision was proposed in October, 2023, but has not been fully discussed.
The 2018 policy stipulates that the Town Manager form a Real Property Advisory Group, chaired by the Assistant Town Manager and including the Assessor, Treasurer, Planning Director, Superintendent of the DPW, and Economic Development Director. The advisory group was charged with evaluating property being considered for disposal and holding a public hearing that included abutters to the property. According to the policy, the advisory group would then present its findings to the Town Manager and Select Board. If the group recommended to dispose of the property, and the Town Manager and Select Board agreed, it would go to Town Meeting for a vote.
The new proposal does not include an advisory committee, but does require the Town Manager to notify the council of any town-owned real property that is no longer seen as required for public purposes. The Town Manager would include the following information about the property in their report, according to the draft:
1. A description of the property, including its history, current use, and any structures thereon.
2. A map of the property and abutting parcels.
3. The existing zoning status of the property and any zoning changes that have been made within the past five years.
4. Projected annual revenues and costs associated with the property.
5. Analysis of alternative uses for the property, including public benefits and drawbacks, development potential, environmental impact, and financial impact for each alternative.
6. Two independently prepared appraisals of the property’s worth and a good faith estimate of the property’s value to a prospective buyer.
7. Restrictions that may be placed on the property prior to sale.
8. Recommended action, including a recommended minimum amount the Town shall be paid for the property.
The council would hold a public hearing regarding the property within 90 days. A two-thirds majority vote of the council would be required to dispose of the property, unless it would be used for affordable housing, in which case only a simple majority would be needed The Town Manager would be responsible for negotiating a contract with a buyer.
This policy would apply to any sale, lease, or transfer of town-owned real property. (Property belonging to other town entities, such as the school department, would have to be transferred to the town before it could be sold.) Currently, the town owns several buildings that are seen as unusable and needing to be demolished. These include the old Hitchcock Center for the Environment and the Hickory Ridge clubhouse. The South Amherst school might be transferred to the town and sold, and town-owned property on Strong Street is being evaluated for possible use for affordable homeownership. On the horizon is the disposition of the Wildwood Elementary School building, which is slated to close in September of 2026, concurrent with the opening of the new elementary school at the Fort River site.
The next Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 6 at 2 p.m. on Zoom. Members of the committee are Bob Hegner (District 5, Chair), Cathy Schoen (District 1, Vice Chair), Andy Steinberg, Mandi Jo Hanneke, and Ellisha Walker (at large), and non-voting members Matt Holloway and Bernie Kubiak.
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