Four viable consultants responded to the Gateway Project RFP
February may be the shortest month of the year, but for the Amherst Redevelopment Authority it will be our busiest in over a generation with three meetings scheduled to peruse proposals submitted by consultants competing for the job of leading a "visioning process" to ensure public acceptance of the proposed Gateway Project, the most ambitious undertaking for the ARA since founding almost 40 years ago.
At our last meeting 1/31 we were presented with the four consultant proposals and a legal opinion from the town attorney stating that Umass is indeed exempt from all local zoning when it comes to the Gateway Project, meaning they can do whatever they damn well please with that property--especially since they paid $2 million to acquire it, and tens of thousands more to demolish the five frat houses.
Of course if vocal NIMBYs had their way, the ARA would be spending the next three meetings playing solitaire. Their unelected leader, John Fox, appeared before the Amherst Select Board on 12/20/10 to submit a petition that requested a moratorium on the current consultant search.
Ironically the consultant is being hired precisely to attract and engage ALL stakeholders (including taxpayers townwide) in a process that allows EVERYONE a voice to shape what develops at that strategic location--not just those immediate neighbors with a misguided sensitivity fueled by a bawdy recent past.
This outreach curation will include at least six provincial stakeholder meetings and then another three Charrettes--a kind of Three Ring Circus where everybody gets to come under one big tent to share feedback.
By March 1st we will have chosen a consultant; they will spend 8 to 10 weeks dealing with a myriad of planning details--not to mention voluminous feedback from the general public.
Then the consultant provides the ARA with an initial draft of the "Gateway Project Vision" and we put it under our microscope. They then come back with a revised version incorporating our suggestions and that version, hopefully, is finalized by a majority vote (preferably a unanimous vote).
And even then, the finished proposal is formally presented in a joint public meeting of the ARA and the Planning Board. All leading up to the biggest hoop of all: a two-thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting to approve the new zoning required for turning this dream into reality.
Yes, more hoops than a Chinese hula hoop factory. But in the end, well worth it.