Prospective buyer files lawsuit over sale of North Hadley Village Hall

  • The town has put North Hadley Village Hall up for bid again.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, May 03, 2021

HADLEY — A resident is seeking a preliminary injunction in Hampshire Superior Court to prevent the Select Board from accepting new bids to buy the North Hadley Village Hall, alleging the board breached a contract with him for acquiring and renovating the property.

On Monday, Ryan O’Hara, an attorney with Bacon Wilson PC of Northampton, filed the legal action for Peter Heronemus, of Mount Warner Road, against the Select Board.

“Heronemus remains ready, willing and able to close on the transaction as required by and set forth within the agreement,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the Select Board in fall 2019 reached a deal with Heronemus for the sale of the 1864 building and ballfield at 239 River Drive, but reneged on the arrangement last month and has “violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing inherent in said contract.”

In March, the Select Board explained that it was terminating discussions with Heronemus due to uncertainty surrounding negotiations. Then-board member Christian Stanley, who is named in the lawsuit along with Chairman David J. Fill II and members Joyce Chunglo, Jane Nevinsmith and John Waskiewicz, explained that Heronemus wanted more control of the historic aspects of the building.

The court filing comes before the 2 p.m. Wednesday deadline for responses to a revised request for proposals for the vacant town property that once housed the town’s Park and Recreation Department and fire department vehicles. The advertisement states that the property is assessed for $490,600 and any bidders would have to agree to a historic preservation restriction.

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because she hasn’t yet seen it.

After submitting an initial $2,500 bid deposit in 2019, Heronemus agreed to buy the property for $70,000 and turn the upper floor into three apartments and the lower level into community and concert space.

Heronemus said Monday that he still wants the deal with the town to be finalized.

“I strongly believe in this proposal,” Heronemus said. “I wanted to do this project for a number of reasons, and came up with the idea that would get doors to reopen to the community.”

His business partner Amy Gates said the hope was to bring people together, as the building had long been used for community events.

“We felt our proposal was in keeping with that legacy,” Gates said.

It has been a longtime dream for Gates to launch a chamber music series and jazz program in an intimate setting. Poetry readings and receptions might also be possible in the building, with the apartments providing the necessary income to make it financially feasible.

The grass on the ballfield would be used for parking, and the possibility of a weekly farmers market, Gates said.

While the Select Board accepted the Heronemus proposal Oct. 16, 2019, it couldn’t move forward with signing a contract until what is known as an Article 97 of the state constitution protection for the ballfield was removed. That limited the use of that acreage to recreational activities

Residents who packed a Town Meeting in November 2019 agreed to petition the Legislature for that removal. The measure passed the state Legislature in late July 2020.

The lawsuit argues that the town and board’s alleged breaches of the contract included a Sept. 4, 2020 request from former Town Administrator David Nixon that a historic bell be removed from the bell tower. In exchange, Heronemus asked that the belfry be cleaned of pigeon debris and oil tanks on the property be dealt with.

Since that time, Heronemus also said he is concerned that the process for closing the deal has not been portrayed accurately by members of the Select Board, including other unexpected requirements that included signing onto historic preservation and land development agreements that were not part of the original bid proposal.

The lawsuit states that “the sample historic preservation restriction agreement would only be accepted if certain specific changes were made regarding exterior alterations and the provisions of the agreement governing restoration/ rebuilding after casualty loss.”

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