The Recorder – Voters Give Blessing to New Salem Selectboard to Sell 1794 Meetinghouse

NEW SALEM – Voters at Monday’s town annual meeting passed an article on the mandate allowing the Selectboard to sell or cede the 1794 meeting house to a private entity.

Gathering in the Town Hall basement, residents voted overwhelmingly to transfer ownership and control of the Performing Arts Center and its grounds at 26 South Main St. to Selectboard, and to allow the board of directors to accept proposals to sell or grant the property “to an entity or organization that will own and manage the property in a way that preserves its historic values.”

The chairman of the selection committee, Randy Gordon, previously explained that the city owns the 1794 Meetinghouse, which makes it more difficult to obtain grants, and that the repairs to the performing arts center are about twice as much. expensive only if the property belonged to a private organization due to the wage laws in force in the state, which require that employees covered on public works projects be paid a minimum hourly rate set by the Department of Labor Standards .

“Basically the city has several buildings that could be better placed in the care of people who really love the building,” Gordon said in the city hall basement, adding that the passage of the article allows a third, probably the current operating church board. the place, to buy it. “We are creating a process where we would allow an organization – preferably the one we spoke with – to take over the building, take care of it, pay the costs of the renovations.”

Gordon said the purchase would come with a caveat that if the buyer fails to maintain the building, the city can buy it back “at a similar price, and we’re talking, you know, $ 5, $ 10 “.

On its website, the nonprofit board of directors of the 1794 Meetinghouse announced its intention to purchase the property.

Brad Foster, a Shutesbury resident who is the executive director of the 1794 Meetinghouse, addressed voters on Monday evening to say that the board of directors was founded almost 30 years ago to help take care of the building, that its members quickly returned to service. He said the church has been running programs for about 25 years.

Foster said it was an excellent building to use as an auditorium and served as a landmark for the city.

“I love the acoustics in there,” he said.

Resident Ricardo Conde said the RFP process “is a bit of a challenge” because anyone can bid on the building. He’s worried that a party with a lot of money might come in, make an offer the city can’t refuse, and change the meeting room. Condé said the city should have the right of first refusal.

City coordinator Nancy Aldrich explained that the selection committee would establish criteria by which to review proposals and assess which parties meet those criteria.

“The money really doesn’t come in,” she says.

Gordon acknowledged that the city would have to consider all serious proposals, but would not accept an offer from an outside entity without consulting with city residents.

Voters took no action on the last two articles of the mandate, which concerned short-term rentals in town. Both were solicited articles.

The first of the two articles asked if voters would agree to accept the provisions of a proposed zoning by-law to define and regulate the use of short-term residential rental housing in the city. The second was for a 6 percent excise tax on the transfer of occupancy of any room into a short-term rental in New Salem.

Amy Fagin, the author of the first article, brought a motion to change the wording of the article regarding zoning bylaws, and Zara Dowling, who said she was renting rooms in her house to help pay for her mortgage, brought a motion to change the definition of tenancy (from 90 days to 30 days). Both motions were carried.

However, a long discussion that took place on several tangents eventually resulted in motions to suspend the last two clauses. A consensus was reached that it would be preferable to establish a committee that could draft a regulation.

Earlier in the meeting, voters passed a $ 3.1 million omnibus budget that includes $ 1.8 million for schools. Gordon said virtually all of the money will be collected through tax, with $ 100,000 coming from the money on hand.

Voters also agreed to raise and allocate $ 41,160 for the loan payment for the replacement of doors and windows at Swift River School, $ 50,050 for the loan payment for fiscal year 2022 for a fire truck, $ 5,000 for response equipment for the fire department and $ 5,000 to replace firefighters and police radios and additional equipment for vehicles and stations.

The city’s annual meeting was originally scheduled behind City Hall, but has been moved inside due to the weather. Fifty-eight of the city’s 793 registered voters turned out.

Contact Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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