Vote no on Amherst Warrant Articles 26 and 40.

To the Editor:

There have been a number of issues raised concerning Amherst’s Cemetery Fields in recent days where additional comment might be helpful to Amherst voters on March 11. Some of these issues are: location of playing fields and Cemeteries in Amherst, costs and land division of Cemetery Fields and the process issues of how this would be done, and appeals to what is in the best interest of Amherst children.

Lets us take these points in order:

? Location of playing fields and cemeteries in Amherst. Meadowview Cemetery is separated from Spaulding Field by Christian Hill Road. The concept of “shared” space in Forestview Cemetery (aka Cemetery Field) would require future users of existing playing fields to drive through Forestview Cemetery to get to the playing fields using existing roads, thus disrupting any funeral service taking place at a time when playing fields are in use. Funerals happen on short notice, while playing events are scheduled much in advance so there certainly will be conflicts. Let us not repeat the unfortunate juxtaposition of Spaulding Field and Meadowview Cemetery at Forestview.

Also, most remaining Meadowview lots are at the back of Meadowview, not adjacent to Spaulding Field yielding more separation (several hundred yards) than would be the case at Forestview, and …

Last summer, there was an incident when a funeral at Meadowview had to be delayed to find the owners of cars who had parked, blocking access to Meadowview, while attending a Spaulding Field event at the same time. Neither knew the other would be there.

The summary is the “shared space” concept is flawed if you believe, as I do, that cemeteries are places for reverence and dignity that should not compete with the shouts and noise of sporting events.

? Advocates of retaining the playing fields do not know, nor does anyone, where the boundaries between the cemetery and playing fields might be until engineering studies, surveys and sub-division plans are made, filed and presumably approved … so any statement alleging as to what the “known separation” will be is purely speculative.

? There is no reason to believe that the Warrant Article 26 appropriation of $180,000 is even close to the “right” number for the land for playing fields. It is well known that a significant portion of the 47-plus acres of land is in the flood plain, and/or subject to the Grass Hopper Sparrow restrictions. This land is less valuable than the remainder that is suitable for use as a cemetery, which would also constitute much of the current playground and playing fields. The true current value of the land suitable for cemetery use would only be known following engineering studies and appraisals, all at additional town expense.

? Much of the current recreation use of Cemetery Fields is for club sports and tournaments where there are many participants who are not Amherst residents. Do the residents of Amherst wish to support playing fields for Amherst residents or for the Souhegan Valley? These club sports do pay fees for the use of Cemetery Fields, which disappear into the towns continuously revolving recreation fund, that Amherst residents do not get to vote on, as I understand the process. Some “transparency” on how this revolving fund operates would be in the best interest of Amherst voters, but the Board of Selectmen have not been forthcoming on this fund’s operations.

? On the issue of three persons deciding the “future” without consulting town residents is a misrepresentation. Any party wishing to change the Superior Court 1999 settlement between the Selectmen of the town of Amherst and the Grasset/Merrill plaintiffs where the parties agreed that recreation use would end on Sept. 1, 2014, has to convince the court that any modification to the settlement serves the fiduciary interest of Cemetery Trust Funds and not the recreation desires of the town. Replacing the current Cemetery Trustees with the Selectmen as Cemetery Trustees changes nothing in the process requirements where the final say rests with the court. Having Selectmen as Cemetery Trustees does not give them any unilateral authority to do as they please. Nor does it give them any immunity from legal action by the previous or any other future plaintiffs to abide by the court decision now in place.

? Concerning the future construction of Forestview Cemetery: The current Cemetery Trustees and past Amherst Board of Selectmen have managed the growth of the Cemetery Trust Funds so that, with an approved cy pres process to the probate division of the circuit court sufficient financial resources for the Phase 1 construction of Forestview Cemetery will be substantially paid for by these cy pres funds.

Finally, what lesson do we teach our children if when they, or their parents, disagree with an outcome, say, when they don’t like a teacher, you just fire the teacher? Is this good public policy? I don’t think so.

Warrant Articles 26 and 40 are, in my opinion, ill-conceived attempts, at unknown costs to taxpayers, to challenge settled Superior Court decisions to which previous Amherst Boards of Selectmen have agreed. Please vote no on both Warrant Articles 26 and 40.

BILL BELVIN

Amherst Cemetery Trustee