Saturday, December 10, 2016

Vote Early Vote Often

Gazette is luck to get 1,000 views per story so 10 times that is a tad suspicious

Entertainment oriented Internet polls are probably the reason why election voting is not currently available via the web since those quick polls are so easy to hack they give the process a bad name.

For instance I had no problems voting numerous times on the Gazettenet poll concerning the hot button issue of the new $67 million Mega School by using three different devices, an iPhone, Ipad and Mac laptop.

And after clearing cookies or changing browsers you can do it again, and again, and again.

But I'm sure somebody will use this poll as evidence of overwhelming support for the Mega School on the floor of Town Meeting when the issue is taken up again next month.

Just as defenders of the failed project insist on trumpeting the "will of the voters" by pointing out the razor thin margin of victory (less than 1%) at the November 8th election where a majority of voters did not even support the project.

P.T. Barnum (or the Russians) would be so proud.

If At 1st You Don't Succeed

The DPW Fire Station Advisory Committee met yesterday for a lick-your-wounds strategy session after one of two proposals failed on the floor of Fall Town Meeting.

Specifically the $350,000 requested for a more advanced schematic design phase study of a new DPW building, which seemed like a lot of money compared to the $75,000 Town Meeting approved for an initial Fire Station study.

If the Fire Station can now catch up to the DPW by spring then the Committee will recommend two separate warrant articles for the Annual Town Meeting of around $350,000 each for the required schematic design phase, although most members agreed it would be helpful if each project had identified a building site by then.

The plan still seems to be for the Fire Station to locate where the DPW is now but town officials have now given up on Fort River School as a DPW relocation site.

Chair Lynn Griesemer was adamant the very preliminary proposed "ideal" DPW building is simply too expensive especially given it's three times that of the new Fire Station ($37 million vs $12 million).

 Weston & Sampson preliminary cost estimates new DPW

Over the next few months the committee will work with consultants Weston & Sampson to try to bring down the cost which normally does happen once a site is selected.

Another suggestion is for the committee to propose a maximum cap, say $25 million, and ask the consultants what kind of a DPW building can they come up with for that amount.

 Anything of course would be an improvement over what they have today.

DPW is located in 100 year old former Trolley repair barn in a really nice neighborhood

Friday, December 9, 2016

Just Build It!

Former sawmill property currently pays $10,000 annually in taxes
North Square at Mill District will pay over $500,000 annually in property tases

The good folks from Beacon Communities completed an exhausting trifecta this week with professional presentations to the Select Board on Monday, Planning Board on Wednesday and the second of three appearances before the all important ZBA last night.

And as usual the NIMBYs were out in force.

The North Square development is seeking a Comprehensive Permit to allow the 130 unit project to move forward.  Located on a 5 acre former industrial site with relatively flat terrain and good soil conditions the $45 million project would address two BIG problems in our little college town:

Over half our property is owned by tax exempts -- mainly our institutes of higher education -- so those of us on the tax rolls have to shoulder more of the burden.  And of the 50% of us on the tax rolls 90% is residential and only 10% commercial.

Former sawmill will be demolished 

The Beacon Project is mixed use with commercial on the ground floor or 20% of the entire project, which will of course feed off the other 80% that is residential.

Amherst currently has an 11.3% Subsidized Housing Inventory but the ONLY reason it is still above the 10% threshold (avoiding a Ch40B development) is because Beacon purchased Rolling Green Apartments 2.5 years ago and kept all 204 units on the SHI.

The 26 units of subsidized housing would be a significant contribution to that under served demographic since the 42 unit Olympia Oaks went online 18 months ago.

But because of the state and federal money involved the entire 130 housing units -- not just the 26 affordable ones -- will count towards the town's SHI thus guaranteeing protection from a hostile Ch40B for many, many years to come.

Beacon purchased Rolling Green for $30.25 million ($1.25 million of town CPA $) thus keeping it on our Subsidized Housing Inventory

Unfortunately in this town anti-development sentiment is an ingrained religion which does not differentiate between visionary projects like this one proposed by Beacon Communities and quick-buck cookie cutter projects  targeting our #1 demographic,  college aged youth.

 Zoning Board of Appeals last night

The ZBA should send a positive message to responsible developers state wide and wholeheartedly support North Square at Mill District with a unanimous vote on January 6th.

ZBA presenters (front row) and audience last night

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Preaching To The Skeptical

Town Meeting cheerleaders rah, rah, rahing
The usual suspects
The Amherst Charter Commission had its largest turnout to date on Monday night for a routine meeting with a packed house of over two-dozen spectators for a presentation by perhaps the most unique subcommittee in Amherst, a town overrun with committees.

I say unique because the "Town Meeting Coordinating Committee Subcommittee on Policies and Procedures" is made up of seven individuals but five of them are NOT members of the Town Meeting Coordination Committee.

Who ever heard of a subcommittee made up of members independent of the main committee?

Even more interesting they had another aficionado present -- John Fox -- to the Charter Commision in their behalf described as an avid follower who is not even an official member of the sub committee.

Only in Amherst I guess.

Naturally all they offer is band aid solutions to improving Town Meeting, kind of like offering a final stage terminal cancer patient a vitamin pill.

A clear majority of Charter Commission members favor something other than the current Town Meeting for a legislative branch of town government, but they are still in the discussion stage; but time is starting to pass quickly.

Even head town meeting cheerleader Gerry Weiss is willing to consider a downsized Town Meeting but still wants it substantially large, probably to include the boatload of NIMBYs present at every session.

When asked by Charter Commissioner Julie Rueschemeyer  "what are the main issues you are trying to address?" TMCC member Chris Riddle responded "We don't have a main issue, we are happy with the way it is now.  We don't see a major problem"

The blind leading the blind.

 Select Board 11/28 discussed just completed 4 session Fall Town Meeting

Interestingly at last week's Select Board meeting during a post mortem analysis of the most recent Town Meeting Chair Alisa Brewer pretty much distanced herself from all things TMCC calling the Warrant Review, Bus Tour, and Precinct meetings they sponsor a waste of staff's time.

Further she said the town should completely disassociate itself from the not-open-to-the-general- public Yahoo Town Meeting listserve privately owned by TMCC member Mary Streeter.  Pulling no punches Ms. Brewer branded it "poisonous".


Fifteen years ago on of the biggest battles fought within that Charter Commission was over abandoning Town Meeting or not.

But they rather quickly (by a 7-2 vote) came to the conclusion Amherst could only be improved by ditching the quaint but antiquated good-old-boys-and-girls network of do gooders, mainly interested in self interest.

Air Raid On Pearl Harbor!

USS Arizona 12/7/41

USS Arizona today

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (12/7/41)

“With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt (12/8/41)

Total killed at Pearl Harbor 2,402

Attack begins:  7:48 a.m.

USS Arizona explodes: 8:10 a.m.

USS Arizona:  1,177 killed in action, the highest loss of live in US naval history. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Try Try Again

Select Board looking dejected on last night of Special Town Meeting

The illustrious Select Board all but announced a Special Town Meeting would be called in the near future to have a second go round at the $67 million Mega School project that could not even muster a majority vote in Town Meeting when a supermajority of two-thirds is the minimum threshold for passage.

At last night's meeting they set aside Wednesday morning December 28 for an additional SB meeting to address the 200 signature petition should one be handed in by then.  Hmm ... anyone want to take bets?

And yes the Town Clerk's office confirmed a petition form to call a Special Town Meeting was recently taken out.

The Select Board can, however, with a simple majority vote,  call such a meeting.   But since all the important articles they unanimously recommended at the recent Town Meeting session -- including the Mega School -- were badly defeated, they should probably rely on someone else taking responsibility for the revote.

Although if they wish to be particularly heavy handed they could call the Special Town Meeting for March 29 a day after the Town Election and a day before the MSBA deadline for getting the two-thirds approval, that way school supporters could run one-issue candidates in the town election to stack the deck in favor of the Mega School.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Protest A Day

TD Bank main sign is covered over

About the same number of folks showed up today at the somewhat downtown TD Bank on Triangle Street for a protest over the Dakota Access oil pipeline although I did not see a single Sioux tribesperson among them.

Yes the Army Corps recently nixed an easement needed over the property so the battle is somewhat won so I guess this was a victory celebration to some extent.  Unlike the Veterans 'Raise Our Flag' protest/celebration which was cancelled yesterday so as not to seem like gloating.

 Since B2 can't sneak up folks turned their signs to her

Another pro-Hampshire College protest yesterday in town center attracted about the same small number of folks as today (75) but they decided to block traffic in town center -- specifically a legally permitted convoy enroute to Hampshire College.

 Yesterday APD had to move along protesters blocking traffic

 With gentle persuasion from APD sheet is removed

Today's protest was much better behaved, but they did cover over TD Bank's main sign for almost an hour and also tied up four Amherst police officers for nearly a half-hour.