Delays at state level stall review of CDBG funded projects in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, February 01, 2021

AMHERST — Projects to build three miles of publicly accessible trails through Hickory Ridge Golf Course, renovate sidewalks in downtown Amherst and improve accessibility for two buildings used for municipal activities are in line to receive Community Development Block Grant money.

Along with seven agencies vying for $165,000 in social services funding, the CDBG Advisory Committee is beginning a review of how to spend the $825,000 Amherst receives as a mini-entitlement community designated by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

The money is designed to support housing, community development projects and social service activities benefiting low- and moderate-income citizens.

But uncertainty at the state level this year is delaying the review process, as DHCD hasn’t yet issued guidelines for cities and towns to follow, meaning that recommendations normally finalized by early February will be postponed, said Senior Planner Nate Malloy

Malloy said the normal schedule, which includes determining community priorities in the fall followed by a public hearing in January before recommendations go to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, has to be adjusted until guidance documents are provided by the state.

Malloy said the money is not in jeopardy, though there could be delays in receiving it.

The most expensive project would be $165,000 to build a trail system through the 149-acre Hickory Ridge, the property between West Street and West Pomeroy Lane that the town intends to buy.

These trails would be six feet wide with trap rock gravel as the base and be available for both recreation and for people walking from the apartment complexes off East Hadley Road to the stores, restaurants and services in the Pomeroy village center.

Construction of this new trail system would coincide with improvements to the village center envisioned as the result of a $1.5 million MassWorks grant going toward various pedestrian and vehicular improvements, including rebuilding the intersection of West Street and Pomeroy Lane.

Another $130,000 would go toward safety and accessibility improvements on Kellogg Avenue near Boltwood Walk, including upgrades to sidewalks, curbs and ramps.

At the Bangs Community Center in downtown Amherst, $100,000 would make an unused courtyard outside the South Meeting Room accessible. In South Amherst, the Munson Memorial Library would see an identical $100,000 investment to enhance handicapped parking, the front walkway and the library doors.

The only other project request comes from Valley Community Development. The agency wants $30,000 for a small business counseling and resource network.

All the projects could be supported, as $536,250 is available for $525,000 in requests.

As for social services, $290,000 in requests have come in from seven agencies, though only $165,000 is available for up to five organizations.

Center for New Americans is seeking $22,000 to run immigrant self-sufficiency programs, The Literacy Project is asking for $30,000 for adult education courses to build economic self sufficiency, the Collaborative for Education Services is requesting $30,029 to continue the Amherst Mobile Market, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County is seeking $40,000 for its partnership with the Amherst Regional Public Schools Family Center, Amherst Community Connections is asking for $45,000 for a COVID-19 homeless services program, Family Outreach of Amherst is requesting $50,000 for community housing and support programs, and the Amherst Survival Center is seeking $73,000 for its food pantry programs. 

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