Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Annual Town Meeting to discuss a number of articles

Hannah Cohen/Collegian
Hannah Cohen/Collegian

A proposition that would allow the town manager to commence negotiations which could lead to the creation of a solar panel site at an old landfill on in town. A zoning bylaw change that would allow residents to keep up to 12 domesticated fowl or rabbits on their property. And an operating budget of about $64 million.

Those are a few of the several items that are slated to be taken up at this year’s annual Town Meeting in Amherst. The meeting, which begins tonight, features a 35-article warrant that’s expected to generate enough discussion to have residents and officials meeting a few times over the course of the upcoming weeks.

On the docket at this year’s meeting is a proposal that, if passed, would allow Town Manager John Musante to negotiate a contract for up to 30 years with an entity that would provide for a solar power harnessing facility at the site of an out-of-service landfill along Belchertown Road. The town has already begun discussions with BlueWave Capital, a Boston-based project development company, to implement the proposal, which calls for the creation of 4.75-megawatt-generating solar photovoltaic site.

“What this article does is it allows [the town manager] to enter into various contracts to move forward,” Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said in an interview last week.

“State law allows the town manager … to enter into a contract up to three years,” continued O’Keeffe. “He cannot enter into any contract that’s beyond three years without Town Meeting’s permission. Because the contract length that he wants to enter into is beyond three years, he needs Town Meeting’s approval.”

            The proposal has received some criticism from residents that live near the proposed site, who have expressed apprehension about the stability of a cap on the old landfill – which hasn’t been operating for almost 30 years. However, O’Keeffe noted that a Town Meeting nod of approval just allows for the development process to move forward. 

“They’re not approving the contract, and they’re not approving the plan,” O’Keeffe said of the article going before those at Town Meeting. “This is about moving the process forward.”

“Approving this is not a done deal, it is just a step in so many steps that need to happen before there’s actually a signed contract or before there’s a project going forward,” O’Keeffe added. 

Members of the Select Board unanimously voted to recommend the article at their meeting last Monday. But, before doing so, they heard from concerned residents who suggested that the article be tabled, and not go forward in its current form at the time.

It was also reported at last week’s meeting that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the town’s Zoning Board may also have to give the proposed project the go-ahead before it moves forward.

In addition to the proposed solar project, those at Town Meeting will also take up a zoning article that would expand the areas in town where residents would be allowed to keep up to 12 fowl – chickens, hens, pigeons, ducks – and rabbits on their property. The article, which was submitted by petition by resident John Gerber – a professor of Plant, Soils and Insect Sciences at the University of Massachusetts – and others has received support from the Select Board and most of the town’s Planning Board.

“This is all about where you’re allowed to raise certain livestock in town – and how many,” O’Keeffe said of the article.

The article also calls for having those who possess any of the outlined animals to register them with the Amherst Health Department, and to allow for the town’s Animal Welfare Officer to inspect them.

Additionally, two subsequent articles outline the regulations that go with the change – and make amendments to the town’s Animal Welfare Bylaw. The only difference between the articles is that one allows neighbors of those who intend to possess the animals to participate in their process of attaining them, while the other doesn’t.

Elsewhere, voting attendees of the meeting will also be asked to approve a roughly $64.1 million town budget for FY12. The budget accounts for the town, school and library appropriations, and is at the full levy capacity that the town can tax at.

Other articles that will be taken up will also deal with changing the amount of parking spaces allowed at residencies in town, amending a portion of the town’s wetlands protection bylaw and authorizing several right-of-ways and easements.

There are roughly 250 Town Meeting members, most of whom are elected to vote at the meetings by residents of their voting precinct in town. Members of some of the town’s governing bodies are also considered ex-officio members, and also have voting rights.

Town Meeting members typically take up the warrants over several nights. O’Keeffe is projecting that members will get through the warrants in six nights.

The meeting commences tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Amherst Regional High School auditorium. Members of the public who do not have voting rights can still attend the meeting.   

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected].

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