Amherst selectmen say no to Knight’s field plan

AMHERST – Selectmen last week quickly rejected a proposal from Brad Knight to lease his Stearns Road fields to the town, calling the cost unreasonably high.

But Knight says board members misunderstood the terms of his offer.

At the selectmen’s Aug. 4 meeting, Tom Grella, who had been negotiating with Knight along with Town Administrator Jim O’Mara, said the landowner offered to lease four flat fields for $50,000 a year, plus a tax rebate and having the town maintain the fields.

Selectmen had been interested in leasing private property, because the town will lose the 48-acre Cemetery Fields on Sept. 1.

Before she retired last spring, the town’s former recreation director said the loss of those fields on Merrimack Road, would make the town’s field shortage worse.

Knight’s efforts to use his fields for sports have been rejected by the planning board, because it’s a commercial use and zoning in that area does not allow commercial recreation use.

Selectman Brad Galinson called Knight’s $50,000 offer “a complete non-starter,” and Town Administrator Jim O’Mara said the cost would deplete the town’s entire revolving fund for recreation.

Board members also noted the fields had been offered to other towns for one dollar.

But Knight said in a phone interview later that week that the one dollar offer was because of state law, and Amherst taxpayers would not be paying $50,000. The money would come from the private sports clubs, Amherst Lacrosse and Amherst Soccer, from their annual tournaments, he said.

The deal, he said, would cost Amherst taxpayers nothing.

Under state statute, a town can use land without planning or zoning board approval, he explained, which is why the town has to be the entity that rents the land.

In Milford’s case, the town would rent the land for one dollar and sublet to MCAA, the Milford Community Athletic Association, which would pay the same fees as the Amherst sports clubs, he said.

Amherst Soccer and Amherst Lacrosse would essentially be paying for the lease, he said, and the net result is that both towns were offered the same deal.

“The bottom line was that the teams were going to pay for it, he said, and his offer to Milford stipulated that three of the four fields would be made available to Amherst teams.

Amherst selectmen, he said, are “walking away from a long-term solution” to the sports fields shortage because they chose to only listen to one piece” of the offer.

During the meeting, board Chairman Dwight Brew said leasing is not a long term solution, and they are not even sure a field shortage exists.

“If we really do have a fields shortage, in five years we’d be facing the same problem, only we would have less land available,” he said.

Board members seemed to agree that the new town recreation director, Craig Fraley, should assess the scope of the problem before the town takes any action.

In recent years, resident turned down warrant articles asking for money for recreation fields and Selectman Mike Akillian said they should try to figure out why.

“I think we need to understand what voters told us,” he said. Did they mean “we need other things?” Did they mean “the town has invested enough in recreation?”

Knight said the recreation space problems are obvious and will result in cutting programs, “an unacceptable future for Amherst sports programs.”

Wendy Rannenberg, chairwoman of the committee looking into replacing Cemetery Fields, called Knight’s offer “ridiculous.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.