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After barn demolition, Amherst residents seek to protect neighborhood

As they seek to overturn a Historical Commission decision that led to the demolition of a century-old barn at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Fearing Street, neighbors are aiming to preserve the remaining historic character of the area.

At a Historical Commission hearing under the demolition delay bylaw for the 1910 barn, which began last week and will continue Tuesday, Patricia Stacey, of 280 Lincoln Ave., made a plea to commission members that even though the structure is no longer standing, their initial decision should be reversed.

“What we’re looking for is some kind of recompense,” she said.

Stacey, one of about 20 residents who attended last week’s session, wouldn’t elaborate on what residents are seeking from property owner You-Pan Tzeng of Longmeadow, who demolished the barn that is believed to have had ties to Robert Frost.

“I don’t think anyone her wants to be hurtful to the owner,” Stacey said.

But Stacey said there is agreement that Lincoln Avenue and Fearing Street should remain intact and free from similar demolitions.

The Historical Commission in September ruled that the barn was not historically, architecturally or geographically significant, classifications that could have led to ordering a year-long demolition delay. Building Commissioner Robert Morra subsequently provided a demolition permit, which Tzeng acted on, even though area residents had appealed the decision.

The Zoning Board of Appeals in December sent the case back to the Historical Commission, which will continue the new hearing Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Commission members didn’t indicate whether they might change the decision, but appeared to sympathize with residents upset about the demolition and worries that Tzeng, who has filed plans to subdivide his property, may be looking to put another residence there instead of reusing it to “increase lawn and garden area” as described in his demolition application.

Commission Chairman Michael Hanke said the barn was structurally sound and didn’t pose a danger.

“We will frown upon placing a structure on that lot,” Hanke said.

Commission member Margaret “Meg” Vickery said while the streetscape hasn’t changed dramatically by removing the barn, if Tzeng begins taking down trees and developing the lot, it could be detrimental to neighbors.

Peter MacConnell, the Amherst attorney representing Tzeng, said the subdivision plans were filed to freeze the current zoning. “(I) don’t believe there’s an ultimate plan,” he said.

In a written memo, town attorney Joel Bard of Kopelman and Paige wrote that the commission doesn’t have the power to impose any fines over the removal of the barn.

“The owner demolished a building on his property pursuant to a valid building demolition permit,” Bard wrote. “I am not aware of any basis for fines/damages at this juncture.”

MacConnell told the commission it made the right decision arguing the barn had been significantly altered over the years and that Frost never used it.

“I would submit to you it’s one of the less significant buildings in the area,” he said.

While new information presented by residents centers on former property owner Warren Brown and whether he is historically significant, MacConnell said every generation in Amherst has at least a dozen or more people of similar stature, comparing Brown to modern businessmen Denison Jones and Donald Hastings.

But Stacey argued that Brown was, at his time, influencing other intellectuals and that the barn represents the roots of Amherst as a community where both education and agriculture are valued.

She said the best evidence of it being a well-known landmark came during the passionate response shown by neighbors, who held a protest the day it came down.

Hanke said Tzeng’s record of developing and purchasing of properties as rentals may serve to prompt residents to create new local historic districts that offer more protections.

“Inadvertently, you’ve rallied people around historical preservation and preservation of our neighborhoods,” he said.

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