Amherst Town Meeting OKs fire station study, nixes DPW study

  • Fire Chief Tim Nelson in the Amherst fire station. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Friday, November 25, 2016

AMHERST — Amherst moved toward building a new fire station south of downtown, but not a new Department of Public Works headquarters at Nov. 16’s Town Meeting session.

Town Meeting first approved $75,000 for a feasibility and site selection study for a new fire station, then rejected $350,000 for a study that would have produced a partial schematic design and cost estimate for a new DPW building.

Lynn Griesemer, chairwoman of the DPW/ Fire Station Study Committee, said the fire station study would help identify three potential sites in South Amherst, likely along Route 116 in the vicinity of Mill Lane, and come up with cost estimates.

Such a fire station, which has been discussed for more than 25 years, would replace the antiquated Central Fire Station built in 1929.

The concept is supported by Janet Chevan of Precinct 7, who said she was told when she moved to town 50 years ago that a new fire station would soon be built.

Similarly, a new DPW is needed, Griesemer said.

“It is unsafe, it is not meeting code, and in no way does it help in providing cost effectiveness for the DPW that we need,” Griesemer said.

Town Meeting members expressed concerns about the spending. John Fox of Precinct 10 said he worries about federal aid reductions under President-elect Trump.

“I think it’s a prudent step here to step back for a moment and see what’s coming down the line,” Fox said.

Carol Gray of Precinct 7 said she is wary of appropriating money for non-school building projects, when both Wildwood and Fort River schools may need improvements without state financial assistance.

Mary Wentworth of Precinct 5 said town officials should halt all building processes after the school vote failed.

“We need to have more of a dialogue between Town Meeting and the Select Board, town residents and the Select Board, to talk about whether there is considerable support to go forward with all of them, or would we prioritize and select one to be favored,” Wentworth said.

The fire station study was approved by voice vote, while the DPW study failed to achieve a majority in a tally vote of 92-77.

By voice vote, Town Meeting also agreed to borrow $675,000 to buy the 0.81-acre parcel at 24 Montague Road, owned by Joe Sacco and the site of Village Auto Service.

This will allow the town to proceed with plans to realign the intersection of Sunderland and Montague roads, improving safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, and at the same time adding green space and parking spots for the North Amherst Library.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the plan might create what is being called a civic core where the library, North Amherst School and a playing field are connected.

“This is a conceptual plan, it is not finalized — it would need to have extensive public input and discussion,” Ziomek said.

Meg Gage of Precinct 1 said living in North Amherst for 30 years, she feels she risks her life daily driving through the intersection.

“This is good planning, it’s forward looking, it’s in the public interest,” Gage said.

Jane Wald of Precinct 1 said she appreciates that such a project would enhance the setting for the library.

Vincent O’Connor of Precinct 1 said he has heard from Sunderland Road businesses opposed to any traffic plan that would divert traffic from the road.

“I also object to taking this commercial property off the tax rolls,” O’Connor said.

Melissa Perot of Precinct 1 and the North Amherst Village Improvement Society argued against any traffic plan where vehicles would flow from Sunderland Road to Montague Road.

DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said a decision has not yet been made

“Either option would work, but both options go through this property,” Mooring said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.