AMHERST — Neighbors who are opposed to a proposal that would develop a 130-acre farm site in town have hired an attorney to represent them.
A hearing on the TransFarmations project was set to take place on Wednesday, but because of confusion over the meeting’s venue and a proper notice to abutters, the hearing was ultimately postponed after numerous people packed Souhegan High School eager to voice their thoughts.
Although the meeting was initially scheduled to take place at town hall, there were concerns that the venue would not accommodate all of the people in attendance. There was some back and forth over whether it should be held at the high school or the town hall, and it was ultimately determined that it should take place at the school.
“We are expecting an overcapacity crowd and we need to accommodate the fire department’s wishes that we have accommodations for a larger crowd,” Michael Dell Orfano, chairman of the planning board, said while initially gathering at the high school on Wednesday.
However, board member Clifford Harris cited a letter from the attorney representing a group of neighbors opposed to the project.
“I am sure there are a lot of people over at the high school, but in light of this letter, I think we should table it,” Harris said of the hearing on the Jacobson farm property at 17 Christian Hill Road. TransFarmations, an organization that builds neighborhoods with a positive impact on carbon dioxide levels, is seeking a conditional use permit to develop a number of housing units with a combination of senior housing, duplexes, affordable housing, single-family homes, rental units and cottages.
Carter Scott, president of TransFarmations, said recently that he hopes to utilize all-electric homes with super insulation, solar panels and Energy Star windows, as well as the creation of greenhouses and ground-mounted solar fields with grazing underneath. Seasonal crop rotations, fruit and nut trees are all being proposed for the property, according to the preliminary plans.
Attorney Daniel Muller, who is representing some of the abutters, wrote a letter on Wednesday to the planning board raising several procedural issues, including multiple changes in venue for Wednesday’s hearing, which ultimately never took place.
“Inadequate notice may deprive a land use board of jurisdiction and, therefore, render any decision it makes void. In short, it is not clear whether the board may lawfully conduct a meeting (Wednesday) given the notice issue …,” wrote Muller.
He also claimed that one of the planning board members voiced her support for the project on social media, maintaining that “even an appearance of bias is deemed to undermine public confidence in the board and any action it might take.”
Muller also argued that the developer’s application was not complete.
“Simply put, the application as currently constituted is more conceptual than concrete, and the public hearing process is not intended as an opportunity for the developer to fill in the blanks on an ad hoc basis,” he wrote.
Mike Hvizda, a Realtor, is partnering with the developer in an effort to fill a demand for housing within all segments of the Amherst market.
“This project could put Amherst on the map to being something that we should be promoting, in general, as we solve this issue,” Hvizda said earlier of the housing shortage.
While the planning board did reconvene its meeting at the high school, after initially gathering at town hall, it eventually decided not to conduct the hearing on the conditional use permit Wednesday night.