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


Anonymous said...

18 people chose vinny over Larry, I wouldn't brag about that

if the gateway becomes a high rent district like the cinema building, that will be bad news for Amherst

high turnover and vacant storefronts is not good for a downtown. given amherst's Stasi tactics towards business in town, in combination with larrys bananas... it does not seem promising


Anonymous said...

"(thanks mainly to Catherine Sanderson being bullied into not rerunning for School Committee)."

What a curious statement!! Who bullied her out of running for School Committee?????

On another note - I agree with you completely, Larry, on the Gateway Project. And I hope Aaron Hayden is re-elected to his seat on the ARA. Come on, Amherst!! This is an important election. Go out and vote!!! Contested seats for the library and for the ARA - these are important seats. The library trustees will be choosing a new director and the ARA will hopefully sheperding the Gateway Project through to completion.

The right to vote is a precious right and should not be ignored - even in local races!

LarryK4 said...

Yes Bach, and 15 years ago in a Select Board contest about 700 people chose Vince over me.

However about 1,000 voters chose me over him--and I'll take those numbers any day of the week (except I still came in third in a race for two seats).

Anon 8:18 AM: Obviously you have not read Catherine Sanderson's blog Comments over the past few months or letters to the editor in the Bully (at least those from before she announced she was all done.)

LarryK4 said...

And Bach: Your spin on the numbers proves my point about how the election Tuesday will be used against Gateway.

Anonymous said...

not spin, just sayin

I think the people get all riled up over school stuff, but infrastructure improvements and new development potentials don't seem to get much attention from the masses. given the outrageous ongoing degradition of the roads in town, I would think the people would band together for some action.

instead of four months severance pay, speed bumps, and 100k dollar parades, how about some road renovation?


LarryK4 said...

Actually there Bach, the parade only cost $40,000 and they took out "rain insurance" that paid off to the tune of $30,000 so all of it was funded by private fundraising and may have actually turned a profit for the town. Just saying.

And Town Meeting approved a $4.5 million bond towards major road repaving (admittedly far short of the $20 million backlog) that starts this Spring.

But you are correct that folks in Amherst get all riled up over the Schools and without a contest for the open school seat a LOT of voters (parents) will stay home on Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

So Larry, are you thinking that Vince has a shot of winning (given the low turnout that is likely)? I've been worried about that myself, especially after I noticed both Gerry Weiss and John Fox have endorsed him in letters to the editor. I'm sure Vince will be mobilizing his base of support, is their a move affront to mobilize Aaron's?

Anonymous said...

Good old Gerry.....We can thank him for Larry Shaffer.....

Anonymous said...

Please all Amherst readers, remember to vote in this boooring election, or some of the level-headed elected officials may lose out to hard-core progressives that always turn out to vote. I hope enough of the sensible voters turn out to keep Aaron Hayden on ARA and Chris Hoffmann on the library trustees. Please do your part! BTW, for your second vote in the library trustee election, vote for Michael Wolff. Pat Holland still is clueless about how disgracefully her evaluation committee behaved, so she deserves the boot, not a third term.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I walk in the Gateway Project area, I am often reminded of South Bronx. Talk about blight, that part of UMASS is truly rundown and frightening!

Celeste P. said...

Hi Larry,
Not posting about this post-wondering if there is any any way you would delete my comment from February 8, 2011 11:12 AM if it is not too much trouble-I feel like I unfairly attacked the Amherst schools, from which I received an excellent education, rather than the sometimes frustrating bureaucracy-regretting it living in perpetuity via a google search. Thanks for your help

LarryK4 said...

what was the title of my post where your comment appeared?

LarryK4 said...

Okay found it, sort of. I made a comment at 11:12 AM in response to your comment at 10:48 AM. Is it your follow up at 11:19 AM you now regret?

Anonymous said...

Vincent o'kelley

LarryK4 said...

Except I'm clean shaven.

And I have kids.

And this blog which attracts Cowardly Anon Nitwits like you, although thankfully--like rowdy students--a distinct minority.

johnnybach said...

those are some pretty strong distinctions

not that my free advice matters in Amherst...

I am seeing an emerald necklace like olmsted's in Boston, where he created greenways along the waterways linking neighborhoods and park spaces throughout the city. of course he did that in the mid 1800's, so the technology has changed, but the idea still rings true 150 years later. I may be mistaken, but I think he may have had something to do with the Amherst common and umass campus layout. the gateway could be the critical link in amherst's emerald necklace, making the linkage from Amherst college, the common, emily's graveyard, Kendrick park, the new umass studio arts building grounds and on through to the campus pond surrounds.

I hope that the mixed use development that occurs includes provision for integrated greenspace to accentuate the river of pedestrians and vehicular traffic. this could also be a good place to establish a dedicated space for a rotating exhibition space for outdoor art, and/or locations for permanent public art....which the town is sadly lacking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you "March 26, 2011 5:20 PM", well said.

LarryK4 said...

Ditto. There are between 1,000 and 1,250 "hard-core progressives" who would turn out during a major blizzard to vote in their like-minded cohort even if the only contest on the ballot was for dog catcher (actually, even I would come out to support Carol Hepburn on that.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that you left town with such bad feelings. You clearly have a strong vision for what Amherst could be and, given that you're still weighing in on it, must at some level still really care. We could use your ideas and aesthetic mind set in this process. Any chance you could forgive and forget, especially now that we have fresh leadership in the town manager's office?

Anonymous said...

thanks...i would consider being involved on an in abstentia basis. or if i was given a contract to consult then it would be feasible to travel to the meetings. the firm they have hired seems to be a top notch organization, and i am eager to see what they come up with.

i have probably rubbed too many people wrong at this point with my cyber rants, and there is still the underlying big boy club that would be tough to surmount.

i have had a love for the land and mans requirements overlaid which will not die...i can't stop the ideas from flowing, and having lived and experienced the town from a designers point of view does put me in a position to comment with some degree of reason...of course there is no financial incentive on a development basis, which all too often taints the process.

thanks for the kind words

the copycat

Anonymous said...

Larry, I ditto your comment on Carol Hepburn. We're blessed to have her!

Dale said...

Just curious, but what did Mr. O'Conner do before he retired. I'm just trying to get my arms around the qualifications of each canidate before I vote.

LarryK4 said...

He was a war protester in the late 60s, but come to think of it still is as you can find him in town center every Sunday at noon.

Anonymous said...

Is that all he's done his whole life? He hasn't worked a real job, how has he been supporting himself? State money? Just asking!

Anonymous said...

Is that all he's done his whole life? He hasn't worked a real job, how has he been supporting himself? State money?

Federal Money. Ask him sometime how much he pays in rent...