Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brighter Downtown

New flowers for town center

A generation or two before the  permaculture movement became a media darling, the old fashioned Amherst Garden Club has been doing its horticultural thing, including maintaining the planters in town center.

And if gardens strike your fancy, the Amherst Historical Society is sponsoring a "garden tour" today from 9:30 AM until 4:00 PM.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Arbor Arousal

Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee Chair Hope Crolius, committee member Bob Irwin 

In their first meeting since the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee became a stand alone entity, after 40 years toiling as a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission, Chair Hope Crolius came out swinging, questioning the rubber stamp routine of Tree Warden Alan Snow and the tactics of Town Manager John Musante who recently summoned her to a private meeting to address the "tone" of her committee.

Crolius rattled off a recent list of occasions where the Tree Warden ignored the tree affirming vote of the Shade Tree Committee, including Atkins Corner clearcutting, beautiful black walnuts in front of Hampshire College (that were later spared because of an easement trade by the college to the town) and most recently a huge, healthy 50 year old spruce on Railroad Street he allowed a housing management company that specializes in student rentals to whack for the convenience of a new driveway.

 Alan Snow, volunteer Tree Warden and professional DPW manager

Crolius observed that for the previous five years, when not employed by the town, Snow was an outsider who put the trees first; but now that he's wearing a different hat--Division Director, Tree and Grounds Amherst DPW--he is "no longer one of us."

A previous Town Manager appointed Snow to his unpaid position as Tree Warden and of course the current Town Manager is the boss of DPW director Guilford Mooring who oversees Snow. 

In a closed door meeting with Town Manager Musante, set up by Conservation Director Dave Ziomek (son of former Tree Warden Stan Ziomek) Crolius described a public relations cheerleading indoctrination session where he strongly suggested the committee "keep it positive," and consider "the big picture."

Musante boasted the town has big things to accomplish, thus the committee should not focus on doing battle for individual trees at UMass or the town owned Hawthorne sugar maples or the stately, rarely seen Camperdown Elm owned by Amherst College.
Ancient but healthy Camperdown Elm Amherst College Pratt Field

Committee member Nonny Burack responded to Crolius's report saying, "I'm very uncomfortable with the Town Manager's comments" and that they amounted to "almost a threat." She also pointed out "developers are going to laugh at you if you're overly positive."

The Public Shade Tree Committee plans to invite Town Manager Musante to attend one of their upcoming open public meetings. Apparently, being summoned to the woodshed works both ways.

Shutesbury Smack Down

The Appeals Court, as expected, did not overturn Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup's decision and they did not even bother to rule on the votes of Shoshana Holzberg-Pill and her brother Jacob Holzberg-Pill (thrown out by Judge Rup) because upholding the voting rights of Richard and Joan Paczkowski made the matter of the Pills votes moot.

The Shutesbury Board of Registrars had allowed all four contested votes (Pills and Paczkowkis) to count but threw out the vote of Christopher Buck (originally allowed by the Town Clerk) bringing the vote total to a 522-522 tie, measure fails.

A pro library contingent of ten voters appealed the decision of the Board of Registrars tying to get the "no" votes of the Paczkowskis thrown out, but instead Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup upheld their votes and went even further, throwing out the Pill "yes" votes.

Thus with this Appeals Court ruling today, the new Shutesbury library $1.4 million override vote now-and-forever stands at 522-520, ballot question fails.

And because the deadline to accept a state grant of $2.1 million--requiring the $1.4 million in town matching funds--expires June 30, the issue that refused to die is now dead, buried with a big ol' building sited squarely on top (just not a new library).

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pool Delay (announcement delayed)

Deep end of the pool still not done 11:15 AM Thurdsday 

4:55 PM Breaking News (shocked, shocked I say).  Town Manager announces pool will not be open Saturday. 
Original Post:  High Noon:

So if I had to guess (and I do since town officials still refuse to comment) I would say we will be lucky if the War Memorial Pool is open for July 4 festivities.

Perhaps Town Manager John Musante was too busy with his gig as chair of the PVTA advisory board to pay attention to this hometown matter, but the first rule of public relations is to address bad news as quickly as possible and be perfectly clear and honest with your customers, errr, constituents.

New water pump (still needs to be hardwired)
Industrial strength filter

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Pool Pain

War Memorial Pool Wednesday morning 11:00 AM

For the second time now I'm predicting (based on "no comment" comments from town officials, and a little construction knowledge) Amherst will postpone the long awaited opening of the centrally located War Memorial Pool, yet again.

Obviously town officials don't live by the private sector credo, "underpromise and overdeliver." Last Spring LSSE announced the pool would open on June 23rd, in time for summer swim lessons and advertised that overly ambitious date in their quarterly brochure mailed to most of Amherst.

The Town Manager announced last week the opening would be delayed, however, until June 30, using the "weather-related" excuse fine tuned over twenty five years of seasonal losses at the municipal golf course.

Recently it did rain...less than an inch. And it was pretty hot for two or three days. Which, all in all, sounds a lot like typical  New England summer weather to me.

I'm told we will have official comment "soon."

Gray area is felt underlay, blue area new liner over it

Going to the Dogs


The Happy Valley pet care market is about to heat up with Petco opening at the Stop and Shop stripmall on the Hadley/Amherst line in the former location of the extinct Blockbuster.  The animal supply retailer has over 1,000 locations nationwide and a strong web presence with over one million "likes" on Facebook.

While good news for folks with pets, not so good news for Dave's Soda and Pet City less than a mile down the road and only a half dozen total locations in the Valley. Of course with pets, price is not the only consideration--customer service also plays a b-i-g role.

And Dave Ratner runs a mission oriented business deeply involved with the community (people and pets), so they should be able to handle the competition.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A LOT Off The Top

Western Mass Electric Company is engaged in "very aggressive tree trimming" near their power lines according to Amherst Shade Tree Committee Chair Hope Crolius, a continuing reverberation of the freak October 30 snowstorm that knocked out power all over New England.

 Look out below!  (At least they left two trees standing)

Like UMass or New England Central Railroad, WMECO is exempt from local oversight by any town body, so about all our shade tree committee can do is hope for the best...and hug a lot of trees goodbye.

The High Cost of Storage

28 Shays Street, Amherst

Amherst police had to be called (twice) to 28 Shays Street to attempt to settle a dispute over a stored 1980 Volkswagon Rabbit. Of course if new owner Michael Ben-Chaim gets approval on Thursday night from the Zoning Board of Appeals to double occupancy from a one family to a two family operation (allowing 8 unrelated housemates) the parking lot will be hosting a lot more cars.

 According to APD logs: Assist Citizen

Michael Ben-Chaim is now demanding payment for what was supposed to be a favor in return.  I explained this was a civil situation and it does not look favorable on Mr. Ben-Chaim as he was not allowing car to be returned.  Talked to the Reporting Party and explained to him how to proceed with the civil process.  Ben-Chaim also let it be known he was upset the neighborhood was seeking a stop order against him for building and RP confirmed Ben-Chaim was most likely looking to get money to fight the proceedings.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More Than Quiet Weekend

 334 Lincoln Avenue

The first weekend of summer for APD was fairly routine, but never quiet.

Friday 8:49 PM Noise Complaint 334 Lincoln Avenue
RP reporting loud music
Spoke with listed resident who just moved in this week.  Approximately five people inside who state they will keep it down.

Friday 9:48 PM Noise Complaint 334 Lincoln Avenue
RP reporting loud voices
Loud voices upon arrival.  Gathering of approximately 20 people.  Party cleared out, advised of Town Bylaw and verbal warning issued.  Resident advised next time he will come with us.

Saturday early morning 12:27 AM Noise Complaint 58 Tracy Circle
2 RPs reporting loud party
Approximately 75-100 people in residence.  No responsible resident could be found upon our arrival however party was later located hiding in a basement closet.  Warning issued.  Responsible party indicated she will advise her parents of this event upon their return home. 

Amherst Police also issued noise warnings to a half dozen other locations around town:  30 North East Street, 39 Hallock Street, 65 McClellan Street, 81 Summer Street, 31 Shumway Street, and 71 S. Prospect Street.


Bare flagpole Sunday morning

So it's not often the town center flag makes the weekend police logs, but some of you may have noticed the big new pride and joy of Francis Scott Key went missing early Saturday evening.  No, it was not Pat Church; just an equipment malfunction.  The original fasteners from the smaller flag couldn't handle the extra force created by such a big beautiful flag flapping in the wind.

 Big new US flag, small POW/MIA flag underneath

Old Glory was taken down and I'm told required three officers to properly fold, and went back up this morning.  Meanwhile the larger POW/MIA flag that flies underneath the American flag is still MIA.  Until found, or a new one ordered, the smaller one that accompanied the previous, modest sized US flag will fly, looking more like a postage stamp compared to the big one above it.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our nation and the continuing 150th anniversary of the Civil War, where President Lincoln championed a "new birth of freedom", perhaps the town should take up a collection to buy a b-i-g-g-e-r POW/MIA flag to remember the 1,664 Americans listed as "missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam war."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Young As You Feel

 Marge Crossman Amherst High School Class of 1937

Yesterday Marge Crossman, a lifelong Amherst resident with a life longer than most, celebrated the 75th anniversary of graduating Amherst High School back when it was a stand alone schoolhouse only for Amherst residents rather than the Regional operation it is today.

Back in the early 1990s Marge founded the Amherst Citizens for Responsible Government a, gasp, conservative coalition of taxpayers concerned about wasteful government spending driving up property taxes and forcing long time residents to sell their homes.

The group would meet at the VFW on Main Street and numbered in the hundreds, mostly senior citizens (Marge was in her early 70s when she founded it) but a gaggle of younger upstart activists as well.  The Amherst Bulletin once asked Town Manager Barry Del Castilho what his major concern was for the upcoming year and he replied, "Dealing with the ACRG."

Current residents will be surprised to learn the Amherst Regional High School $22 million renovation Override actually failed at the ballot box on the first attempt (1994), due to the efforts of the ACRG, who thought it was too big and of course too expensive.  A few months later the town came back a second time and it passed, but a message had been sent.

I asked Marge yesterday what was most memorable historic event of her lifetime?  "The bombing of Pearl Harbor," she replied--but then quickly added, "I had two brothers in the service at the time."

For us baby boomers who never lived through the horror of World War 2,  the resounding answer would be 9/11.  Let's hope when we hit "almost 93" that no other event will have surpassed it.

Izzy Lyman reports

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Miss Emily Returns

Miss Emily Dickinson at the Amherst Farmers Market (she refused to comment)


Proves The Rule

621 E Pleasant (Illuminated sign reads "Babetown")

UPDATE: September 17

So yes, the childish comments that started coming in yesterday alerted me that this fairly routine, slow- -news-day post from almost three months ago (or "forever" in Internet time) was suddenly getting an avalanche of renewed interest -- probably from one of the denizens who must have Googled the address or possibly the silly sign title, "Babetown" to discover this post and then reposted on Facebook.

Interestingly this particular post originally barely registered on my sitemeter for traffic generated.  But NOW, it has broken in to my Top Ten list (see "popular posts" widget over on the lower right side) of all time, out of almost 2,200 posts.  Well done boys.  Keep up the good work!

 Original Post: June 23

A day after the Planning Board Zoning Sub Committee heard an angry earful about student party houses at their annual public hearing--especially the conversion of single family homes to two family homes with a doubled capacity for eight unrelated housemates to congregate under one roof--police were called to 621 E Pleasant Street for loud noise and a bonfire.

And when firefighters arrived late Thursday night to put out the poorly contained fire, a couple dozen of the college aged youths gave them a hard time for disturbing their fun.

Hey when you have a full sized skateboard halfpipe in your backyard you would be able to enjoy it anytime of the day or night, neighbors be damned!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Everybody into the Pool

 Mill River Pool in North Amherst opened today, ahead of schedule

Apparently town officials were embarrassed the War Memorial Pool would not open as scheduled, now hopefully set for June 30, so perhaps they lit a fire under Leisure Services to get the Mill River Pool open early, just in time for the hottest days of the year, thus far.

Last night the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission "site visit" to the War Memorial Pool construction site was cancelled because of "extreme heat".  Perfect metaphor for why the pool project is behind schedule.

Since the town wading pools are not open, I took the kids to the always reliable Hampshire Athletic Club.

Shutesbury Library Drama Continues

Shutesbury Community Church managed major renovations with private fundraising

Andy Warhol once said "Everyone would be world famous for 15 minutes," and lawyers in the contentious Shutesbury Library $1.4 million override election had their 15 minutes before a trio of judges at the Boston Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning trying to convince the justices that Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup was either as wise as King Solomon or wrong as a stopped clock.

Boston attorney William McDermott, representing two of the original 10 class action Yes voters, squandered precious time trying to get the justices to allow into evidence interrogatories that Judge Rup had not allowed on a technicality (they were unsigned). The justices pointed out to Attorney McDermott that if the Paczkowskis voter status is upheld the Pills (yes) votes would be moot.

Attorney Alan Seewald, hired by 3rd party "intervenors" from the No side, shared 15 minutes before the justices with Shutesbury town attorney Donna McNicol who argued the Board of Registrars correctly allowed the yes votes of Shoshana Holzberg-Pill and her brother Jacob Holzberg-Pill as well as the No votes of Richard and Joan Paczkowski, long-time residents who winter in Florida (bringing the vote to a 522-522 tie).

Oddly, Attorney MacNicol as part of her defense of the Pills also defended the behavior of Christopher Buck the only vote thrown out by the Board of Registrars and barely mentioned in the original case brought before Judge Rup.

Alan Seewald, the Pro from Dover, defended Judge Rup's decision but was questioned sharply by justices about "disenfranchising" Shoshana Holzberg-Pill and her brother, who attended the hearing, Jacob Holzberg-Pill.  But Attorney Seewald had never requested Judge Rup simply throw out the Pills yes votes only that, "If your honor were to disenfranchise the Paczkowskis, you must do the same with the Holzberg-Pills."

Shutesbury Town Administrator Becky Torres, a new-library supporter, also attended the appeals hearing.

The Appeals Court is expected to rule before June 30 thus giving the town time to tap into the $2.1 million state grant dangling in the wind since the heated political theater began.  If the court upholds Judge Rup's decision the vote ends up 522-520 in favor of NO.  If the court reinstates the Pills votes but fails to overturn the Board of Registrars decision on the Paczkowskis, the vote will be 522-522 tie, ballot question fails.

In order for the election outcome to change the appeals court has to allow the Pills votes and disallow the Paczkowskis, a seismic overrule of Judge Rup and about as likely to happen as a snowstorm blanketing the area later today.

Look for a safe, tidy compromise:  the justices will reinstate the Pills votes, but keep in the Paczkowskis thus bringing the tally, once and for all, to a 522-522 tie, the $1.4 million override fails.

Quaint Shutesbury M.N. Spear Memorial Library

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dog Days Indeed

Original Railroad bridge (now a bike path) about to be replaced but with no increase in width and negligible increase in height

So in addition to the major traffic snafu at Atkins Corner redirecting traffic from RT116 in South Amherst, now at the other end, near town center, the closing of Snell Street--a major shortcut between busy RT116 to even busier RT9--is gearing up to increase frustration levels.

The state rented a construction trailer now parked near the bridge 

A public hearing on the $315,000 project is scheduled next week at Town Hall (6:30 PM June 26 in the Town Room), so at least we can complain about not widening or increasing appreciably the clearance of the current structure that routinely scalps trucks. But the plans are already set, so it's unlikely for anything to change.

 Woodside Avenue bridge:  The bridge to nowhere

The state told the contractor the road cannot be closed until the new bridge is on site, ready for placement, so estimates for the road closing are in the range of only a week...perhaps two.  But then the War Memorial Pool was supposed to open this Saturday and we know that' s not going to happen.

And let's hope, unlike the new bridge installed 12 years ago over the bike path 100 yards away, that this one is actually used for its intended purpose.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Cost of Social Justice

Buses wait for their precious cargo at Crocker Farm School

Amherst Regional Public Schools teach social justice; in fact, some would argue our schools preach social justice.  But when it comes time to actually walk the walk and put money where your mouth is, school leadership acts like a Robber-Baron Scrooge squeezing pennies out of those who can least afford it.

Yes, the highest paid administrator in the most expensive public school in the entire region forced the lowest paid employees in the system--bus drivers and custodians-- to sign a legal gag order to receive $18,840 in total wages they were legally owed after the business office miscalculated annual days worked over the years.

But why such heavy handed secrecy?  Perhaps because other low paid full time staff--secretarial and clerical employees, audio-visual technicians, and media aides--are currently unaware they too were unfairly shortchanged over the years and could also demand equal compensation. 


Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Fun Delayed

War Memorial Pool Monday morning 9:30 AM

5:20 PM Breaking News:  Opening Delayed by one week (Shocked, shocked I say!)
So the likelihood of the Town Manager announcing tonight that the "grand reopening celebration" of the long closed War Memorial Pool optimistically set by Leisure Services and Supplemental Education for June 23rd is still a "go" is about as likely as Amherst supporting Scott Brown in the upcoming Senatorial election.

While all my otherwise reliable sources refuse to comment today, the photo from this morning speaks for itself (and counts for at least 1,000 words).

In an effort to save money the town had the DPW do major site work rather than contracting it out to the private sector, such as Taylor Davis Landscaping--who specializes in meeting deadlines. 

Friday June 15th: All DPW hands on deck

 And of course to adhere to that penny wise philosophy, the DPW did not work on the project over the weekend as that would have added the high cost of paying overtime to workers (not to mention having dads work on Fathers Day).

Just say No

Hess Express South Amherst
UPDATE 2:30 PM The hearing tonight is off and has been postponed until July 16

The Amherst Select Board acting as Liquor Commissioners should deny the permit request of Hess Express for take out beer and wine sales at their exceedingly busy convenience store in the heart of the tiny commercial village center in South Amherst.

And for the same reasons they denied the request of Cumberland Farms a couple months back. Amherst does not need more convenient access to alcohol. R&P Liquors, a Pop and Son, has been a responsible provider of all things alcohol in that area since 1968; and the Select Board not too long ago gave Atkins Country Market, only a mile down the road, one of these permits.

 R&P Liquors South Amherst

The Hess Station already has self serve gas, lottery, a Subway and Dunkin' Donuts franchise so their clerks are busy enough as it is at most hours of the day. Allowing cold beer and wine to go out the door with milk, bread and a newspaper sends a troubling message.

As former APD chief Charlie Scherpa said about the Cumberland Farms application two months ago, "It will just increase the problem we already have with the distribution of alcohol."
 Stores within busy stores: Hess already has Dunkin' Donuts and Subway so they don't need alcohol to survive

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sweet & Sour

Taste of Amherst Day 2 

 Fearless Jada flying 

Just when you safely thought Amherst town center could not get any more inviting--the aroma of food from a plethora of providers, a live band rocking the crowd, weather more gorgeous than the day before, all topped off by a BIG beautiful American flag flapping high over the proceedings--you come upon THIS:

 Parking Ticket (bad) Taste of Amherst

A friendly reminder of the town's anti-business demeanor.

 Large signs distributed throughout parking lot in front of Town Hall

Why is it the town allows free parking around Christmas to attract visitors to the downtown but not for the biggest event of the year--The Taste of Amherst?

 If you really squint you can see the 8AM to 8PM on paystation behind Town Hall, but no other signage

Boxers figured out a long time ago that the closing round of a fight is the one that makes a lasting impression on the judges.  Topping off a fun family night with a parking ticket leaves behind a very bad taste--one that makes consumers think twice about patronizing the downtown.

Let There be Light

So its taken over a year but the traffic lights in front of busy Big Y Supermarket are, finally, working.  After all these years of drivers relying on courtesy and common sense it will be interesting to see if automation is an improvement.

DPW electrician Fred Hartwell making the connections last week

Friday, June 15, 2012

Speaking Well of the Dead

A July 4 Parade for kids, DPW, Police, Fire, Military, farmers and families.  God bless America

So I have to admit being somewhat bemused by today's enshrining editorial simultaneously published in the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin lamenting the loss of the Amherst July 4th Parade next month after a march of ten consecutive years.

This from newspapers who only four years ago told the private July 4th Parade Committee to go find another holiday while simultaneously supporting the town of Amherst nationalizing the Parade in direct violation of a 9-0 Supreme Court First Amendment ruling.

Thank God for the ACLU.  Because when the mainstream media drops the ball, who else are you going to call?

Kevin Joy always made sure the July 4th Parade ran on time

Tasty Treats

Jada enjoys dessert @ Taste of Amherst

The key ingredient for making an outdoor food festival a BIG success was ever present last night and will be for the next few days, possibly pushing the 21st annual Taste of Amherst into the record books for attendance. 

Great opening night crowd 

Food samples from 23 restaurants, round-the-clock entertainment and cold beer...what more could you ask for?  Family and friends of course; and if last night is any indication, everybody seemed to be with somebody--all having a good time.

Taste of Amherst weekend hours: Friday 5-10; Saturday 12-10; Sunday 12-4
Town Website helps promote Taste (but they need a copy editor)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Warren Wows Amherst

 Elizabeth Warren arrives at the Black Sheep Deli in downtown Amherst 4:00 PM

One sure way to stimulate business is to schedule an appearance by Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren--especially in a democratic stronghold like Amherst. Although she was a half hour late for her last minute appearance at the Black Sheep Deli in the heart of downtown Amherst, nobody seemed to mind. Especially Black Sheep owner Nick Seaman.
Elizabeth Warren waiting to speak to jam packed crowd at Amherst's Black Sheep Deli