Thursday, March 31, 2011

Election Post Mortem

Friends, Anons, Bloggers, lend me your eyes; I come to praise Catherine Sanderson not to bury her.

The good that she has done, lives after her...Long live the queen.

Gotta love the Freudian slip just before the 4 minute mark where she starts to say "neglected representative" of the school committee. You got that right Ms. Theilman. Still, a classy move on your part--and a well deserved one at that.

Senator Scott Brown will probably lose a few votes in Amherst for his nice gesture, and it's not like he was going to get many in the first place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

And the winner is....

Harry Brooks Registrar of Voters, Sandra Burgess Town Clerk (center)

UPDATED: Town Meeting Results:
9:35 AM Wednesday morning

If "Blank" was an actual candidate he/she would have come in first place in all 10 precincts by wide margin. In all, 7,172 individual votes were cast among all ten precincts in town meeting 3 year category and a total of 4,623 left blank.

Precinct 1 (8 total for 3 year terms):
Louis Greenbaum
Diane Westfall
Kenton Tharp
Vincent O'Connor
Eric Nazar
Patricia Holland (runner up prize for not making Library Trustee)
Melissa Perot
Hilda Greenbaum (only beat 9th place finisher by 4 votes)

Precinct 2
Barbara Levine
Andrienne Levine
John Coull (also Chair of ARA)
James Pistrang
Barbara Ford
Daniel Clapp
Issac BenEzra
Two Year term: 0
One Year term: Edward Mientka

Precinct 3

Peter Gray-Mullin
Nancy Gregg
Nancy Buffone
Karen Marie Harrington
Jacqueline Churchill
Patrick MacWilliams
Lawrence Orloff

Precinct 4
John Stuart Nelson
Kay Moran
Baer Tierkel
George Ryan
Alan Powell
Two Year Term
Doris Holden
One Year Term
Mark Parent
Naomi Ossar

Precinct 5
Barry Federman
Pat Church
Jane Price
Nancy Pagano
Kevin Eddings
Kevin Noonan
James Oldham
Andrew Bohne
Two Year Term
Mary Wentworth
One Year Term
Katharine McGovern
Robert Saul

Precinct 6
Maralyn Blaustein
Elizabeth Welsh
Diana Spurgin
Jeff Blaustein
Richard Spurgin
Harry Brooks
Gordon Freed
Faythe Turner
One Year Term
Paul DiBenedetto
Amy Brodigan

Precinct 7
Ernest Dalkas
David Keenan
James Brassord
Kenneth Hoffman
Alice Swift
Harvey Allen
Andrienne Terrizzi
Two Year Term
Marylou Theilman
George Jeffrey Bohne

Precinct 8
(Mother) Mary Streeter
Kathleen Traphagen
Jenifer McKenna
Lise Halpern
Ruth Hooke
John Kick
Glen Bertrand
Elaine Fronhofer
One Year Term
Barry Roberts

Precinct 9
Dade Singapuri
Felicity Callahan
Otto Stein
Denise Barberet
Jessica Wilkinson
Emily Lewis
Jonathan O'Keeffe
Pamela Rooney
One Year Term
Stephen Schreiber

Precinct 10
Lewis Mainzer
Stephen Braun
Brett Butler
Jan Eidelson
Richard Bentley
Elissa Rubinstein
Hwei-Ling Greeney
Nancy Gordon

UNOFFICIAL TOTALS (for the contested races):
Amherst Redevelopment Authority: Winner Aaron Hayden 880 to Vince O'Connor 504

Jones Library: (Major upset!) First Place: Chris Hoffman 832, Second place: Michael Wolff 665, Odd person out: Current Board of Trustees President Pat Holland with 660 (kind of like that overthrow in Egypt thing).

Voter turnout: A pathetic 8.5% (Think globally, ignore locally)

8:39 PM

So far in the "heated" race for ARA, incumbent Aaron Hayden, with numbers from three out of 10 precincts (7,8 and 9) is winning by a 2-1 margin. Turnout is barely breaking double digits.

9:05 PM
Hayden wins precincts 2, 3 and 4 and combined it's probably by 2-1 total. Vince actually wins Precinct 1 (his home precinct) 48-42.

I am now projecting Aaron Hayden the winner. Go Gateway!

9:17 PM
For Library it's looking like the odd person out is not going to be out by much. Close 3-way race for the two seats (with 7 or 10 precincts reporting.)

9:21 PM
Looks like Chris Hoffman is in for one of the Jones Library seats but number two is close. Vince actually won another precinct: 2

Monday, March 28, 2011

What if they gave an election and nobody came?

The best PR flack in the business--even the guy who came up with “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”--would have a hard time selling today's municipal election. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Almost exclusively due to a lack of competition. For the second election in a row, no contest for Select Board--the highest elected position in town government. And since the schools are the only thing that matters to a whopping percentage of the electorate, the lack of a contest for Catherine Sanderson's School Committee seat (at least hers until 8:00 PM this evening) dampened markedly any election buzz.

No lawn signs, post cards, radio ads, bumper stickers, nasty emails, Facebook pages or stand outs in town center. Nada.

Ironically Aaron Hayden is the candidate hurt the most--fortunately not fatally--as virtually all the 'Amherst Center' types who would have flocked to the polls to vote against Catherine Sanderson would have supported Mr. Hayden's reelection to the Amherst Redevelopment Authority for his sane, smart growth approach to enhancing our commercial tax base (thus creating more tax revenues for the schools); the exact opposite of Vince O'Connor's touchy-feely, no-growth-is good-growth attitude.

But I'm still going to write in Catherine Sanderson for School Committee anyway. She deserves the Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart for three long years of banging her perky head against a brick wall. Like the innocent kid who cried out the emperor has no clothes, only in this modern version a royal goon squad then beats the tar out of her.

Chris Hoffman also took some heat last summer for calling attention to the hatchet job underway at the Jones Library, where cutthroat-Carol Gray was setting up long time director Bonnie Isman for a death by a 1,000 cuts with an "evaluation" longer than 'War and Peace'.

Since three candidates are vying for two Library Trustee positions a voter can choose two candidates. I'm going to "bullet vote" for Hoffman, but if you feel it's your patriotic duty to use that other vote then cast it for ANYONE BUT Pat Holland (also part of the hit squad with cutthroat Carol.)

Traditionally Amherst voter turnout for municipal elections held in the Spring is usually an embarrassing 15 to 20% (30% for an Override or Charter change in government ballot question) but the Presidential elections every four years in November always brings out around 75%.

That's Amherst for you: always thinking nationally (or internationally). Today's turnout will be the most pathetic in years, possibly under 10%.

Catherine Sanderson: out of the hot seat

Party Street of the Weekend: Phillips St.

10:30 AM

Amherst Police Department's crack down on rowdy students behavior continued this past weekend with an escalation of tactics: rather than issue $300 tickets for alcohol violation perps were arrested, cuffed and thrown in jail.

And with a shift to "sector" saturation greater police presence (both APD and UMass police) occurred all around the Gateway corridor--especially Phillips Street, Nuting Avenue and North Pleasant Street as well as the usual suspects, Hobart Lane and Sunset/Lincoln Avenues.

In all Amherst Police arrested over 25 college-age students rather than issuing a $300 ticket--mostly for "open container" and "underage drinking" violations. One more arrested for Driving Under the Influence and only one $300 ticket issued for "open container" and two for "noise" violations.

With a $10,000 state grant providing for additional police overtime, expect greater police presence on weekends between now and graduation.

Bad boys bad boys, whatcha going to do
whatcha going to do when they come for you?

A conflict over conflict of interest

clockwise: Peg Roberts, Larry Shaffer, Aaron Hayden, John Coull, Jonathan Tucker

If someone had not taunted me in town center on Thursday morning I would not have known to call the State Ethics Division to inquire about a complaint lodged against fellow Amherst Redevelopment Authority member Aaron Hayden who is also--coincidentally enough--up for reelection tomorrow.

The State Ethics Division is like the Secret Service or FBI when it comes to investigations, as they will not "confirm or deny" anything...however if you talk long enough, you can figure out if a complaint was filed.

Interestingly enough the next day (Friday 3/25) the Daily Hampshire Gazette published a Letter To The Editor from anti-Gateway kingpin, former Washington D.C. attorney, and neighbor to the potential development, John Fox supporting the ARA candidacy of rabidly anti-Gateway activist Vince O'Connor.

And in his lede Mr. Fox warns about "...potential conflicts that confront Aaron Hayden as a member of both the five-member Select Board and the five-member ARA, which have important overlapping issues." Hmm...

Ten years ago Select Board chair Carl Seppala was also an ARA member. And so much "conflict" existed at the time over ARA joint development with the town that the episode became known as "The Garage War." No complaints, however, about "conflict of interest" over Mr. Seppala's important dual roles.

A few months back sleeper activist Mary Wentworth publicly suggested Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe had conflicts of interest because her father John Coull is Chair of the ARA, and she lives on Butterfield Terrace within the Gateway's "neighborhood planning area."

Ms. O'Keeffe herself requested a State Ethics Division legal opinion and they concluded neither is a conflict of interest, which she publicly shared during a Select Board meeting. And, not surprisingly, the state recently found no conflict of interest exists with Mr. Hayden as well.

Disclaimer: Although I'm a longtime member of the ARA, Umass graduate, Continuing Education student and 5th generation Amherst resident, I speak here, as I always do, strictly for myself (and for the hard-pressed taxpayers of this town) using that cherished American ideal known as the First Amendment.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hypocritical activist

Vince O'Connor posing for Rockwell

A dozen years ago forever activist Vince O'Connor filed a warrant article (one of the hundreds over the past thirty years) demanding Amherst town meeting take parcel C-3 in town center via eminent domain. At that time the Amherst Redevelopment Authority owned the property,having themselves taken it by eminent domain in the early-to mid-1970s.

Vince was a prime mover in the largest land taking in Amherst history--the 1987 taking of the Cherry Hill Golf Course--where town meeting heavy handedly used an "emergency measure" legal proviso to preclude voter referendum. Thus, as an ARA member (Governor appointed), I took his threat seriously.

The ARA had just completed a commercial appraisal ($350,000) as the final step in preparing a Request For Proposals for a private developer to do something economically constructive with the valuable property.

But things changed quickly when the town became serious about a parking garage. The ARA quickly voted to donate the prime piece to Amherst, with only one provision: the parking garage had to have the structural integrity to support another deck to enable future expansion.

Vince's proposal lost overwhelmingly on a voice vote and the rest as they say is history. And without the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage , millions of dollars in expansion, renovation and new backfill construction would never have happened--especially the new $4 million Boltwood Place mixed-use building immediately behind Judie's that broke ground a few weeks back.

Four years ago Mr. O'Connor was at it again; he filed a town meeting warrant article calling for "the abolishment of the ARA." Although strangely enough he concurrently ran for the open ARA seat in a stealth write-in campaign because no one had bothered to collect the 50 signatures required to get on the printed ballot.

I won the 5-year seat, which I currently hold, besting Vince 67-18.

Tuesday's election is going to be a snoozer, as voter turnout will be nothing if not lame (thanks mainly to Catherine Sanderson being bullied into not rerunning for School Committee).

Thus Mr. O'Connor stands a chance of getting close enough (McCarthy vs President Johnson 1968 New Hampshire primary) to use as public relations spin that Gateway is opposed by a significant percentage of voters, even though it will be a percentage of a tiny percentage of overall voters.

Mr. O'Connor staunchly opposes the Gateway Project, a development which will add significantly to the town's anemic commercial tax base, while he champions the redirection of ARA energies to creating a "Boys and Girls Club" or YMCA type recreation facility that will of course be tax exempt. Amherst is already half owned by tax exempts.

Having run a fitness facility in Amherst for 28 years I know all too painfully well that the recreation offerings in the area are now overly abundant--and with Planet Fitness around, they are also exceedingly cheap.

Recent entries include UMass $50 million Recreation Center, Central Rock Climbing Gym in Hadley (with a competitor already on the drawing board), a storefront Aerobics and Fitness Studio in east Amherst and former Leading Edge Gym diehards still pining to reopen somewhere (over the rainbow) plus the oldest surviving full-service club in the area, Hampshire Athletic Club.

Mr. O'Connor also points out that numerous buildings (two of them churches) are within the overall Gateway corridor area and, unlike the demolished Frat houses, do not fit the description of "blighted."

But no other property is needed other than the 1.8 acre former Frat Row that UMass is prepared to donate. If a $4 million, five story building can fit on 2,500 square feet postage stamp space behind Judie's, what can you erect on almost 80,000 square feet (thirty times larger) of perfectly graded property?
Future home of Boltwood Place

Future home of something spectacular

If Amherst cannot put aside its development phobia for a cause this outstanding, then what hope is there for any beneficial project with vision and class?

The Springfield Republican Reports

The Bulletin Reported:

Funny profile of Vince by Mary Carey

UMass community outreach on neighborhood stabilization

Friday, March 25, 2011

A better place to be

My darling daughter Kira only transferred to Crocker Farm Elementary School on Monday, and since then she's assisted with after school "Horse Lovers Club" on Wednesday afternoon and tonight--again with her little sis--attended their first "Friday Night Social" for a couple hours of games, food, music, and hanging out with new found friends.

About sixty kids congregated in the gymnasium and a dozen or so more too cool for organized play roamed the halls. Parents met in the cafeteria for food and conversation.

Superintendent Maria Geryk seemed to enjoy her busman's holiday, and trying to keep up with her children.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shock and awe campaign

A couple hours after hearing Chief Livingstone report on the effectiveness of the bylaw fine increase for noise and alcohol violations, Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe floated another potentially potent weapon in the war on inappropriate behavior: license review.

After all, she points out, the Amherst Select Board members are all duly sworn in by the state as "liquor commissioners" so perhaps it's time to hold businesses responsible for activities that promote bad behavior.

Ten years ago when bars (the same two she is now referencing, one of them under different management) flagrantly violated the new controversial smoking ban and were laughing off $50 tickets for infractions, the Select Board threatened to suspend common victullar (food handling) or liquor licenses to those businesses not getting the message.

Compliance quickly followed and is now the accepted norm statewide.

The Bully comes out swinging

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Horse sense

Kira brushes Dreama
Jada feeds Dreama
Time to go back to the farm

Civic minded Muddy Brook Farm runs a "Horse lovers club" at the Crocker Farm Elementary School about a half mile up the road from the farm on Wednesday afternoons when school usually lets out at 1:20 PM. Great way to constructively occupy the kids for an hour.

Capture the flag

Perhaps the Select Board should have figured it out when not a single citizen bothered to enter the "design an official Amherst flag" contest last November and only with extra PR outreach did they manage a hand full of designs.

Obviously Alisa Brewer is tiring of the typical Amherst process for getting things done. Now she can appreciate how the typical entrepreneur feels when trying to open a business in Amherst, only to get exhausted jumping through all the hoops.
The Children's Memorial Flag will fly once again at Town Hall in April under the, umm, UN flag.

Flags are powerful symbols--for good (Old Glory) or evil (Nazi swastika). This "contest" is indeed a telling symbol of 'All Things Amherst'.

For a better view of all six entries click this link

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

E-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g Amherst

Barnes, Lincoln W., 1879-1966, "West side of North Pleasant St. near Amity St.," in Digital Amherst, Item #767, (accessed March 22, 2011).

After a slight dip in population from 35,229 in 1990 down to 34,874 in 2000--the first decline since 1780--Amherst came back with a bang in the recently released 2010 census with a healthy population gain of 8.44%, bringing us to a historic high of 37,819.

That population resides in an estimated 9,513 housing units with 45.8% of those (4,073) owner-occupied, well under the national average of 66.9% and 54.2% (4,829) renter-occupied, well above the national average of 33.1%.

No wonder our neighborhoods need stabilization.

The ebb and flow of Amherst's population (especially the rental market) is of course closely tied to students, meaning mainly UMass--which also saw a slight decline in student population from 24,474 in 1990 down to 23,570 in 2000. But now at a historic high of 27,269 with plans for growth in the thousands over the next few years.

And they will have to live somewhere.

The battle for peace (and quiet)

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone, a 30+ year veteran of the APD, went before the illustrious Select Board last night to present an updated intelligence report on the impact of various town bylaws now being used as a tool to suppress outrageous late night behavior fueled by alcohol and resulting in property damage, ugly debris, lost sleep for anxious neighbors and an emotional reason for boards and committees to reject desperately needed development of any kind.

Last year Amherst Town Meeting, at the request of the Campus Community Coalition, increased the fines for the 1st offense on noise, unlicensed kegs, open containers, and the ultimate weapon--nuisance house--to $300. And yes officers can double up on the citations (noise + nuisance house = $600 per responsible party) if the perps are truly outrageous.

Click photo to enlarge/read
The most notable impact of the bylaw fine increase is in the "open container" category, which has resulted in a 16% decrease in citations and a general feeling that incidents of outright public drinking are on the decline, also reflected by a 40% decrease in fines for unlicensed kegs.
But you would think in this day and age a rational person of age should not have to be told (or punished for) walking or driving around in public while consuming alcohol.

The other major categories--"noise" and "nuisance house"--have seen a distinct increase in citations issued over last year from when the fines were far lower.

But the Chief pointed out that it is not necessarily a dramatic increase in occurrences, but more that the town now has the tools to combat this unacceptable behavior via heavier fines, which at $300 are worth taking time to issue. Over $100,000 worth over the past six months.

General public "calls for service" on noise and party violations increased by 35%, but that too could be a result of publicity about the issue: reporting parties now know that something significant will actually get done in response to their call.

And the fines save police time because officers can write a ticket quickly whereas an arrest--the kind with handcuffs--can take an officer off the street for a "considerable" time (5 minutes vs. one hour). Thus officers can come into contact with more violators, deal with them in less time and be available to "handle more serious calls for service."
Yes, the fines are being paid. Chief Livingstone reports (to his surprise) that 50% of the tickets are paid almost immediately and so far 100% of the tickets appealed to the Clerk Magistrate have been upheld. Unpaid tickets eventually work their way through the system and will inevitably result in an arrest warrant--not the kind of thing you want hanging over your head for a lifetime.

As Sir Winston once said: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Chief Livingstone's full report

The Mass Daily Collegian reports (to the target audience)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Party house of the weekend

Once again a unit at Rolling Green Apartments, a generation old complex a fair amount of townies call home out on the Amherst/Belchertown border, is our winner. This time #202. According to police narrative: "Loud Party. Loud voices upon arrival, numerous responses here. Town Noise Bylaw citation issued to resident, 20 year old Kanha Sinha."

And I think I'm going to expand my award to include Party House in the making. My first winner is 655 Main Street. According to police logs: "Reporting Party (neighbor) came into lobby to speak with an officer regarding trash and a junk car parked at 655 Main Street. RP also advised us of loud parties from the college students at the listed location. RP was explained the options for calling in noise complaints and the potential for violations of the nuisance house bylaw. RP advised he may call Health Department as well for the trash violation."
655 Main Street (back view)

Side view

A site (visit) to behold

Frat Row: A wide expanse of flat open space in the perfect location, shovel ready

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority met principal vision consultants from American Communities Partnership both formerly at the Planning Department in Town Hall and informally at Judie's--my favorite downtown restaurant--and and then ambled along a site tour (both driving and on foot) of the general area that will someday--hopefully soon--transform the Gateway Corridor leading to UMass.Perhaps Friday was not the perfect day to get an idea of the true nature of the neighborhood as UMass is on Spring break so things were a lot quieter than normal, still the pros from ACP consulting were certainly able to get the physical lay of the land.

The main corridor easiest to define is North Pleasant street running along Frat Row with bookend churches, Mercy House on the southern end close to town center and the First Baptist Church at the northern end just before entering the main campus.

Mercy House Church

First Baptist Church

Stakeholder meetings with all the major players--immediate neighbors, UMass and Town officials, local business leaders, Town Meeting Coordinating Committee, League of Women Voters, etc--will start April 12 and conclude on April 14, setting the agenda for the wide-open interactive public event known as a charrette, now scheduled for April 28,29 and 30.

And since the two churches are well within the Gateway Corridor, one will probably be drafted as a convenient host site.

The Daily Collegian reports

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ZBA approves ABC permit...finally!

Third time was the charm as the ZBA last night, after two annoying continuations, approved by unanimous vote (which was required) the "special permit" necessary to allow the Amherst Brewing Company the right to pay a Connecticut company a lot of money (but essentially the same as what they were paying a local landlord for their smaller downtown location) to transform the former Leading Edge Gym on University Drive into a cozy, comfortable, responsible, adult-oriented--as opposed to rowdy student--brew pub.

Nice way to celebrate St. Patty's Day, eh?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gateway: out of the gate, off and running

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority had a most productive meeting, including a brief 10 minute Executive Session to discuss property acquisition, that started this evening at 5:00 (instead of the usual 7:00) and wrapped up at 6:30.

ACP Visioning and Planning, awarded the four-month consulting contract only two weeks ago at our March 1st meeting (one of four bidders for the $30,000 contract), already demonstrates one reason they were chosen: A team will be in town all day this Friday for a series of work sessions with town planning staff, including a walking tour of the proposed main corridor (although an exact footprint is still to be determined) and formulating a list of stakeholders to include in the ultra-public process about to unfold.

The ARA is treating the walking tour of the possible impact area as a "site visit," which is a public meeting--so the general public may tag along--but no policy discussions or public comments will take place.

The old "Frat Row" at the main Gateway to UMass, 1.86 acres of prime real estate, is currently the only swath of land that is certain to be included in the final plan. UMass will donate the keystone piece to the ARA after state legislature approval. Senator Stan Rosenberg, one of the state's more powerful politicians, resides in Amherst and graduated from UMass/Amherst, our flagship institution of higher education.

In 2007 Alpha Tau Gamma, Inc. sold the property to UMass for $2.5 million and as part of the deal donated $500,000 the Stockbridge School of Agriculture endowment plus covered the $300,000 demolition/clean up costs. Since they were a private entity, in their final year of existence as infamous party houses they paid Amherst $60,000 in property taxes.

Since the Gateway Project will also be privately owned-and-operated, it could easily generate over a million dollars in annual tax revenues for our cash-strapped municipal coffers. Giddyup!

Here's to you Cpl Frank Buckles

America's last veteran of World War 1: "The war to end all wars."

By Presidential decree

Monday, March 14, 2011

Party house of the weekend

Strangely enough there were none this weekend--or considering it was Spring Break week--perhaps not so strange. I bet Florida had more than its share. Although the previous weekend there were more than enough party hardy contenders for the award, so I'm sure at tomorrow's Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting the subject will come up during Public Comment period as ammunition to torpedo the Gateway Project.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When Media platforms collide

What a fascinating week in All Things Journalism. No, I'm not referring to the "China Syndrome' taking place in Japan, also a red hot story at the moment, but to our own local/national/international nuclear meltdown story: The ongoing Phoebe Prince suicide tragedy in South Hadley now, amazingly, 14 months old. A blockbuster story with bionic legs it seems.

And this most recent chapter started innocently enough on Thursday morning with a positive story, otherwise known as a puff piece, in the Springfield Republican's cyber entity Masslive concerning a local South Hadley High School teacher attending an anti-bullying conference at the White House, an article written by intern Rosie Walunas, a journalism student on assignment for a UMass academic project under the direction of veteran print-journalist-turned-professor-of-digital-journalism, Steve Fox.

Well it turns out that particular local South Hadley High School teacher has been acting as a PR flack for the school that pays her salary pretty much from day one, and some have argued that she "blamed the victim" as a means to absolve the school, students, administrators, teachers or town.

And she had a "fashion" blog (now deleted) where she gushed about the upcoming Washington D.C. trip...a blog that I--not know for my fashion sense of course--found to be something out of a Saturday Night Live skit, including a questionably risque photo of her posing in a slinky outfit against an industrial locker, the kind you might find in a High School locker room. Yikes!

The online response--comments posted to the Masslive article, the South Hadley Forum and on a local blog that has relentlessly followed the tragedy with a microscope--came fast and furious, but even the mainstream media (if you consider MSNBC main) scooped everyone via an interview with Jeremy Prince where he sadly pointed out his family's dismay with A) not being informed of the B-I-G White House PR event and B) the "disgusting" choice of having THAT particular teacher attend and present at the conference.

Ms. Walunas demonstrated her digital upbringing by quickly responding with a follow up story in the Republican (Friday) laying out the now escalating controversy--and even mentioned the caustic Internet responses from comments posted to her original story and on the pernicious blogosphere.

By then savvy Republican editors must have figured out this was a major story and veteran reporter Fred Contrada assumed the helm with his further exploration of this epic PR backfire, splashed on the front page (Saturday) with the entire angle of the story highlighting the "shock and disgust" felt by the Prince family.

Meanwhile on Friday the South Hadley Town Reminder (a free weekly) and Daily Hampshire Gazette published overly positive front page stories concerning the anti bullying conference at the White House without any mention of the controversy. On Saturday, the Gazette catches up with the debacle by regurgitating the heartbreaking MSNBC interview with Phoebe's dad.

And this morning an Irish newspaper--The Sunday Independent-- picked up the side story (prominently decried in cyberspace) that South Hadley High School students are coming to Ireland for a visit (led by the now controversial teacher) in a few weeks with the headline giving you a distinct clue what they think about it: "Shock as tragic Phoebe's school plans Irish trip."

Their reception will probably be similar to that any fool would get strolling into an Irish pub on St. Patty's Day dressed entirely in orange and requesting a spot of tea.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A war of ideology

11:45 AM

Tea Party activists, otherwise known as Western Mass 9/12 Project, swamp the usual peace protesters in Hamp's city center late this morning.

Maybe they will pay downtown Amherst a visit one of these fine Sunday afternoons...

Downtown Amherst (any Sunday afternoon over the past 35 years)

Let's hope demonstrators never go this far for attention

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ZBA (almost) approves ABC permit. Sláinte!

Jeff Bagg (Amherst Senior Planner) ZBA: Eric Beal, (Chair) Hilda Greenbaum, Tom Ehrgood

UPDATE: 5:30 am
Apparently I left too early last night (babysitter issues): the ZBA unanimously acknowledged that there are no issues to cause a denial, but never actually came to a formal vote on the special permit...yet. Next Wednesday they will finish up crafting the "conditions" for approval and, hopefully, take the formal vote.

Now you know why it takes so long to get anything done in Amherst!

ORIGINAL REPORT (Thursday night)
9:12 PM

Tonight the omnipotent Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously headed towards approving an ever-so-slight change in usage called a "special permit", crucial for the Amherst Brewing Company to relocate a mile from Amherst town center into a larger, more open commercial space on busy University Drive (so named because it is a main artery to UMass) with a plethora of free parking.

I say omnipotent because the ZBA (appointed by the duly elected five-member Select Board) is essentially the same as a state Governor deciding a death row pardon that requires a unanimous approval from all three sitting members.

This would now make two consecutive business friendly decisions from the ZBA, turning aside organized neighborhood protest lamenting noise, traffic and--in the case of ABC--the all too familiar complaint about potential rowdy student behavior fueled by too much alcohol.

In fact on Monday night, Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe (during a discussion defense for hiring a new Building Inspector to enforce housing health and safety codes) succinctly stated, "There is nothing more important facing the town right now than the quality of life issues in the neighborhoods. The issue of student rentals, student parties...they really affect every single permit application that comes before the ZBA, Planning Board."

She goes on to issue a stern challenge: "This is an area we need to be serious about. Not just for the quality of life for people today, but because of it being an obstacle to making progress for the future."


Attorney Alan Seewald, ABC owner John Korpita

Even the formerly over optimistic folks over at "save our Gym" and revive the Leading Edge seem to agree with my assessment that the ZBA all but approved the permit and will simply dot the i and cross the t on Wednesday:

ZBA March 10th hearing results
The ZBA all but approved ABC's Special Permit application at last night's hearing. On Wed. they will finalize some restrictions and conditions and then it's a done deal.

There is discussion of alternate spaces. It would be a much bigger and more complex project.

Further info to follow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let the sun shine

Ye Old Landfill 1:55 PM

Okay, so unlike his predecessor--that PR challenged guy who flew the coop not too long ago--Town Manager John Musante really gets PR. Although I think he goes a tad overboard with the spin-like intro that Amherst will be a "leader in our region on solar energy," when Athol has beaten us to the punch. Yes, Athol.

But BlueWave Capital is certainly a well-connected, heavy-hitter, as their lead principal John DeVillars is a former environmental affairs secretary for Mike Dukakis who worked his way up to (federal) EPA regional honcho.

And the current Governor seems to be into all things solar and is putting those all important tax credits behind that enthusiasm (at taxpayer expense).

Our modest solar start

Select Board serious about student parties

Perhaps this weekend and the particularly outrageous late night party at 83 Morgan Circle was a tipping point, as last night Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe threw down the gauntlet saying in effect "enough is enough" and backing it up with budget recommendations: overtime for police and fire and a new position in Housing Inspections and code enforcement. Can you just imagine the violations a health inspector would have uncovered in that "single family" house packed with over 500 alcohol fueled party goers?

Foxborough gets tough on public drinking (although not as tough as Amherst)

UMass SGA candidate arrested for noise violation

Monday, March 7, 2011

Party House serial offender

Despite verbal assurances to the Amherst Police Department that they had changed their evil ways, the denizens of 83 Morgan Circle reverted back to their party habit over the weekend--with a vengeance.

According to APD narrative: "Extremely loud music and yelling was ongoing and unreasonable upon arrival. Approximately 500-600 people eventually left the residence with some resistance. Peace was restored and three parties were placed under arrest for Unlawful Noise."

Mark Edward Holland, age 21
Michael Jason Cabasso, age 21
Sergey Vuytik, age 25

83 Morgan Circle: Previous award for "Party House of the $emester."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Downtown Deja Vu

Winter, 2011

Boltwood Place, a mixed use $4 million showcase, immediately behind Judie's restaurant and just in front of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage is a downtown dream project about to come true for co-developer David Williams (who is also co-owner of that iconic restaurant.)

A dream that started over twenty five years ago with Amity Place, an ambitious $3.5 million dollar development only a stone's throw away, that failed in 1983 to garner the required two-thirds vote of Town Meeting necessary for a zoning change.

Williams, an architect, had assurances of a $1.4 million federal Urban Development Action Grant for a multi-level parking garage that would be blocked from view on Amity Street by upscale retail/office space and screened along the side by the Amherst Cinema and on South Prospect Street by eight plush condominiums--thus a forerunner of "mixed use," the current hot template for Amherst development.

So when Mr. Williams, a long-time Amherst resident, is quoted in the Springfield Republican saying, "We got so much good cooperation. This town has really changed," he is the quintessential voice of experience.

Gateway Project supporters hope these positive winds of change continue to blow...

Amity Place would have occupied the town owned metered parking lot and what is now Peoples Bank flush with the Amherst Cinema