Jacobson Farm project stalled

AMHERST – The plans for a major land development in Amherst have hit a temporary legal hurdle.

Several abutters of Jacobson Farm, located at 17 Christian Hill Road, have won a temporary solution to a growing community problem.

TransFarmations, an organization that has two failed projects in Massachusetts as recently as 2016, has caught the attention of angry Amherst residents, including Scott Stimpert, concerned about the impact on building 66 housing units on roughly 30 acres of land.

The town of Amherst’s Facebook page has been lit like the Las Vegas strip with hundreds and hundreds of comments and threads posted.

On Sept. 4, the planning board meeting was to be held at the town hall in Amherst but concerns over crowding issues forced the board to consider relocating the meeting to the high school. But that message was not clearly sent and by law, must be.

“At the June 19 planning board meeting, which was the first introduction of the Jacobson Farm project, the crowd spilled out the door out of the town hall,” Stimpert said. “There were tons of people there. There was standing-room-only. And since June 19, the project has only gotten more interest, more concern, more people.”

Stimpert said the community wanted answers and as Facebook traffic on the subject increased, so did attention to attending the next planning board meeting.

“I know that at least two members of the planning board follow that Facebook group,” he said. “There was a level of concern and participation and that expectation as to how many people would probably be attending that Sept. 4 meeting.”

Stimpert said he was surprised the board didn’t make any attempt to move the Sept. 4 meeting, considering the buzz about TransFarmations and some frustrated residents of Amherst.

“They Rip Van Winkled,” he said. “They figured out that they were going to have more people than the town hall can hold.

So, in the 24 hours before the actual planning board meeting, there was conflicting information coming out of the town hall as to where the meeting was going to be. The community development director gave some information the day prior, saying the meeting would still be at town hall, while they also published a document stating that the meeting would take place at Souhegan.”

Stimpert called it, “a fair amount of thrash” with regard to the where and when of the meeting.

“At the planning board meeting, at Souhegan, when the board came in, the first order of business was that an attorney representing the abutters had delivered a letter to the board, dated that day, stating that the notification requirements set forth in the RSA’s for both the 10-day requirement of location and time had not been met,” Stimpert explained.

“And the right-to-know law states that board meetings have to provide the information as to the where and when of a meeting 24 hours prior to the actual event,” he continued.

By law, it was suggested by the board that they not address the Jacobson’s Farm proposal but to reschedule it after notice had been re-given to allow for the 10-day time and place.

Stimpert said the volley now goes back to TransFarmations.

“They’ll have to give re-notification to the abutters to meet that statutory 10-day requirement, so that piece of the business, was tabled until proper notification could be provided under compliance.”

Online conspiracy theorists have suggested that perhaps the board changed the meeting locale in order to throw meeting attendees off the scent, but Stimpert doesn’t believe that to be true.

“I think there’s a saying that goes, ‘don’t ascribe to malice, what can be more easily ascribed to negligence,” he said. “So, I have no opinion as to motive. I think there are those who believe it was done to suppress the scent. To be honest, the Occam’s Razor aphorism is probably that they just didn’t consider in time and were inside the decision loop for notification and it was pointed out to them and they got the city attorney involved, and he guided that they delay that piece of business for the evening.”