Friday, November 30, 2012

Triplets!

 3rd tank, also with one foot of the volatile liquid remaining, was buried along eastern side of building

The old expression "bad things come in threes" certainly played out over the past week for a small business located at the highly visible intersection of Main/Triangle/Dickinson Street just below the Emily Dickinson Museum .

The first underground storage tank, resembling a large aerial bomb dropped from a B52, was bad enough considering it lay almost directly under the main entry immediately in front of the building.

Assistant Fire Chief Don McKay was instantly suspicious there would be a second  due to a large connecting pipe visible on top of the tank, which sure enough proved accurate. The third tank alongside the building came as more of a surprise, kind of like the initial discovery.

The first gas pump appeared in Amherst in 1905 on the corner of Kellogg Avenue planted there by Melrose Paige. Probably installed properly, since Mr. Paige went on to become Amherst Fire Department Call Chief in 1911, and by 1925 he was Chair of the Amherst Select Board.
At first, no permit or license was required to sell gasoline, although this being Amherst, regulation soon followed.    The first license to sell gasoline was recorded at the Town Clerk's office in May, 1914.

By the late 1930s Amherst hosted 24 "filling stations" and the citizens did not want a 25th. At a routine Monday night Select Board meeting in July of 1939, eighteen citizens turned out for a public hearing to protest a gas station permit for a proposed business (by a large oil company) on North Pleasant Street.

Their battle cry was a simple but inflammatory one: North Pleasant Street, the busiest commercial street in Amherst, should not become "gasoline alley".

The Select Board denied the permit.

The building on Main Street where the underground tanks were just discovered is located very near Classic Chevrolet, formerly Paige's Chevrolet, founded in 1883 -- the first auto service business in Amherst.


Patterson's Garage, Main Street Amherst circa 1940 

Prior to becoming a pizza shop it was an entrenched location for auto service: Ledoyt's Garage shows up in 1923, two years later becoming Bilger's Garage, and in 1936 Main Street Garage.  Between 1940-1950 the location was operated as Patterson's Garage and, finally, Dick's Auto Service operated by Dick Stedman.

 Amherst Record ad 11/28/1963

A valve fitting found on one of the tanks was manufactured by the Evertite Corporation, a business established in 1935, indicating that Main Street Garage is probably responsible for the tanks -- although they could have gone in years earlier and were added to or replaced after 1935.

Now of course the explosive question:  how many more large underground tanks, with gasoline still in them, remain buried and forgotten around town?
####
 
The tanks, measuring 5 feet in diameter and 16 feet long, were peeled open after a chemical solution poured in to neutralize explosive fumes, siphoned,  and then replaced with an equal amount of concrete.  Old gas was taken to a "waste burning facility" by New England Environmental, Inc so it did not completely go to, err, waste.

Board of Health regulations banning underground tanks in the aquifer recharge zones was a volatile issue in 1983, vociferously protested by local farmers, gas stations owners and others with underground tanks. Those who, according to then Board of Health Chair Davis Ross, "had a vested interest in not being regulated."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sweet Downtown Addition

Glazed Doughnut Shop, Carriage Shops North Pleasant street

The new gourmet doughnut business -- appropriately called "Glazed Doughnut Shop" -- that opened last month on the northern town center outskirts debuted already using paper coffee cups because they assumed the Styrofoam ban would pass.

This is after all, Amherst. And who would better know Amherst than a pair of ARHS graduates, high school sweethearts no less.  In addition to knowing the town, Keren and Nick Rhodes also know doughnuts -- and how much work it takes to make them right.

Yes, their main competition, with three establishments in town, is Dunkin' Donuts -- but the abbreviated way they spell doughnuts should tell you something.  


More variety than Dunkin'

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Unexpected Find

 Bruno's Pizza, Main Street

While maybe not as dramatic as uncovering an unexploded WW2 bomb, the surprising find on Main Street could probably have done almost as much damage:  two underground gas storage tanks, one 4,000 gallons the other 3,000 gallons, each with many hundreds of gallons of the dangerous liquid still in them, buried and forgotten for almost 100 years.


Looks like something dropped from a B-52

The full-reconstruction Main Street road project, which is expected to be completed next week, as it made its way up towards town center uncovered the long forgotten gas storage tanks, setting in motion a series of public safety responses.

Amherst Fire Department coordinated with Department of Environmental Protection and local Hazmat expert New England Environmental, Inc sampled the soil around the two tanks to test for contamination. And that is probably the only good news, as there was no leakage.

But the first tank had 1,000 gallons of gas and the second one 500 gallons that needed to be carefully siphoned into a truck with a large holding tank. Both underground tanks will stay where they lay but will be refilled with 3,300 gallons of concrete and paved over.
2nd tank was even closer to the building 

Apparently, well before the Main Street business became a pizza shop, it was an auto repair facility -- and since it was on heavily traveled Main Street, it also had gas pumps out front (one regular the other high test).

The shop became a pizza parlor in the early 1980s, called "Whole Wheat Pizza" and was one of the first establishments in Amherst to specilaize in delivery.

Bruno Matarazzo purchased the business in 1994 giving it a new name that it carries to this day.  Bruno sold the business and moved uptown, where he founded Antonio's Pizza. 


Exponentially Expanding Empire

60-62 Railroad Street (left) 64-66 Railroad (right) 

On December 13 the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals will decide if two contiguous Railroad Street properties, currently zoned as "two family" dwellings (allowing eight unrelated tenants per house) can expand by 50%, going from four to a total of six units, or 24 unrelated occupants.

GP Amherst, LLC purchased the properties back in July.  The man behind the LLC is YPT, You-Pan Tzeng, who also owns five properties in town under his own name.   Four more via GP Amherst and another five using KH Associates, or a total of 14 properties.

In the past year, using those two LLCs, he has purchased ten houses. 

Yes, Mr. Tzeng is in the BIG Leagues. A property empire totaling $5 million in valuation, generating $100,000 in tax revenue to Amherst this year.

So you have to wonder if special treatment comes into play -- especially regarding code enforcement?

When You-Pan Tzeng purchased 321 Lincoln Avenue it came with a legally binding "owner occupied" provision, the result of an expansion from one family to the current two family back in 1993.  In a hearing last April, where he tried to get the Zoning Board to remove that provision, a bevy of neighbors descended on the public meeting to vociferously remind the ZBA about the detrimental impact non-owner occupied housing unleashes on neighborhoods.  

The zoning board unanimously reaffirmed the loud-and-clear difference between owner occupied vs absentee owner.  They denied the change in Special Permit.  So then what happened?  Did the house revert back to the original 1996 zoning of only one family (four unrelated housemates), thus costing the new owner $15,000 per year in rent? 

Well, no.  Apparently Mr Tzeng moved his residency from a ritzy $489,300 Longmeadow home to a tiny one-room unit at 321 Lincoln Avenue with seven housemates.  Hmm ...

And when friendly neighbors from the 'hood dropped by to welcome him to one of Amherst's oldest neighborhoods he seemed never to be at "home."  The college-aged roommates never seemed to know of his whereabouts either, and reportedly got nervous when asked about it.

Double hmm ... 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Brighter Downtown


The Amherst Business Improvement District can't take credit for today's first snowfall, but it provided the perfect backdrop for all the new Christmas, err, HOLIDAY Stars adorning light pole all over the downtown that the BID can take credit for.

Better yet, I'm told the Merry Maple -- in a joint production between the BID and Amherst Chamber of Commerce -- will get a 400% increase in the number of lights, so photographers will no longer have to use their low light setting.

Come watch the lighting ceremony this Friday at 4:15 in front of venerable Town Hall.  (It may now even be visible from outer space).

Flushing Taxpayer $

War Memorial Field Comfort Station vandalism


Sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend, just before the building would be closed up for the winter, a Luddite vandal trashed the overhead sensor mechanism for turning on the lights, as well as ripping out the flushing sensor mechanism from the back of the toilet at the War Memorial/Ziomek Field bathroom.

And it's not the "broken window" theory in practice, since the 50+ year old building underwent a $140,000 refurbishment just this past summer, in conjunction with a $300,000 renovation of the War Memorial Pool.

Alan Snow, DPW Tree Division Director,  confirms the bathrooms  "are unlocked from the beginning of the spring sports season to the last home game in the fall which was held on Thursday (Thanksgiving)."  

The town is, however, in the process of installing remote time locks on all the comfort stations in town that can be set to open and close automatically, and be controlled via the Internet.

DUI Dishonor Role


Amherst police -- and of course the citizenry at large -- received a break from noise/nuisance party houses over the long Thanksgiving weekend.  Thanks be to that.  But APD did deal with the usual assortment of Breaking & Enterings and of course those potential killers on the road:

739 North Pleasant Street/Eastman Lane UMass roundabout.  Early Saturday morning 2:23 AM

Stopped for speeding and marked lanes violation ("all over the road").  Blew a .12% BAC on the Portable Breathalyzer Test and failed the other physical Field Sobriety Test components.

Arrested for DUI Second Offense and marked lanes violations:
Christopher Robert Shippa, 56 Elm St, Hatfield, MA, age 29

And yes Mr. Shippa showed his experience as he refused the Breathalyzer test back at the APD headquarters -- the one that is admissible in court.

Well traveled N. Pleasant Eastman Lane Roundabout intersection UMass/Amherst

Also arrested for DUI about a mile up the road, around the same time (3:00 AM early Saturday): Aiden Mullaney Barett, 323 Apple Valley Rd, Ashfield, MA, age 18

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Ray of Hope

 Sunset Avenue:  A Street On The Brink

Six years ago in testimony before our Zoning Board on a hearing to allow a house to become a fraternity, neighbors described Phillips Street, the street contiguous with our number one employer UMass, as being at a "tipping point", with almost half the homes on the street owned by absentee landlords renting mostly to students.

Today eight-out-of-nine houses are non owner occupied, and Phillips Street is the slum capital of Amherst.

So I hate it when residents of nearby Lincoln Avenue and Sunset Avenue describe their bucolic residential neighborhood as being at a "tipping point," which indeed they are.  And I fear that they too will go the way of Phillips Street.

While enforcement of nuisance house bylaws is only one component of the "safe and healthy neighborhood" initiative, it is a vital one.  And I firmly believe it is making a difference.

But everyone needs to do their part.  As with the war on terror: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

#####
Dear Resident of Sunset Avenue,

I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in May 2012. While a student at UMass I lived at 164 Sunset Avenue during the fall of 2011. 


I am writing to you to apologize for my role in the public disruptions that came from my house last fall, and the ensuing problems they may have caused you and your family.

To give you some background, I moved into 164 Sunset Avenue because it was the most affordable off-campus living option I could find at the time ($350/month). As someone who financed their own education, I did not have many economically feasible options for off-campus housing. 


Moreover, as someone who did not own a car, the house’s location and its proximity to campus was appealing to me. Unfortunately, I only knew one resident in the house before I moved in, and I soon learned that it was a “party house.”

My decision to move into this house still pains me to this day. Most notably, because of the night I was arrested. On this night, I was in my bedroom in the basement watching a movie with a friend. Upstairs, my roommates had company (as they usually did) and were playing loud music.


While in my bedroom I heard a knock at the backdoor. This person turned out to be a police officer. He asked me if I lived in the house, to which I responded yes. He then requested that I step outside to speak to him. I obliged, not entirely sure of what was going on. Immediately, he arrested me for a noise violation.

After my arrest, I was so worried that I could again get in trouble for something my roommates did that I slept on a friend’s futon for the remainder of the semester, in order to avoid any possible future problems. When the fall semester I ended, I immediately found someone to sublet my room to, and I finished my senior year in a dorm on campus. 


I am writing to you over a year after the incident occurred because time passed has provided time for reflection. Despite not playing an active role in the partying that came from my house, I did not play an active role in stopping it. Perhaps if I did, I would not have been arrested, and you would have had a quieter street.


Moreover, as a resident of 164 Sunset I was equally responsible for what took place inside my house, and because of this I owe you and your family an apology.
 
I hope you accept this letter of apology on behalf of my roommates and I, and I wish you the best as Amherst Police continue their crackdown on rowdiness. As someone who lived on Sunset Avenue I know how difficult it can be.


Hopefully, my letter of apology offers some kind of solace or at the very least an empathetic perspective from a former UMass student.

Regards,


Former Resident of 164 Sunset Avenue


164 Sunset Avenue, in the shadow of UMass

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Surprise!

Billy Blanks surprised by a hook kick 

They say surprise is the secret to humor, or at least the Facebook meme says it, and some of them are pretty funny.  But I'm even more certain that surprise is a key component for victory in combat. 

Pearl Harbor, and our payback six months later at The Battle of Midway, Israeli liberation of hostages at Entebbe, or the unsurpassed devastation inflicted on our country that clear blue 9/11 morning, all relied on the element of surprise.

I was always known on the karate circuit as a strategic counter fighter -- letting my opponent make the first move and then catch them on the way in -- although the more derogatory term used by the blood and guts fighters was "runner".  But I could stand my ground or blitz with the best of them when necessary.

In the opening seconds of my match with Billy Blanks, fighting for the division title, I hit him with a clean quick uncharacteristically offensive hook kick, which was sort of like waving a red flag in front of an already angry bull.

So for the next few minutes I revert back to my counter offensive style and catch him a few times to the body (although the judges missed it, the sidekicks still probably hurt enough to get him thinking about protecting his body). Thus setting up the coming-full-circle final move.

The exact same kick I scored with in the opening seconds of the match.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Art vs Signage

"Signs for wayfinding" on bike path bridge over downtown Northampton
Little White House, Hampshire College front yard

Friday, November 23, 2012

Free At Last


As an added attraction to shop local on "Small Business Saturday" the town is offering free parking throughout the downtown.  And since the schools are not in session on Saturday, shopkeepers do not have to worry about students and employees of the University of Massachusetts, our number one employer, parking in the downtown and hopping a PVTA bus to school.

And most small businesses train their staff not take up prime parking spots.

So hopefully the downtown parking lots will fill up with shoppers in a good mood to spend money.  A dollar spent in the local economy returns many times over vs the one spent at national chain stores at the nearby Mall (and they always have free parking).

Now if we could just get the Chamber of Commerce or Business Improvement District to rent or borrow a large electronic flashing sign and plant it in the downtown to inform shoppers of the good news.

A Roof Over Their Heads

 AFD Central Station is getting a new roof

Town Meeting approved $186,00 last spring for repairs to Amherst Fire Department Central Station top to bottom:  The leaky roof and crumbling apparatus floor.

Still, the station is too old and too cramped for a modern day fire department with the call volume of AFD. Six years ago the Fire Station Study Commission came up with three scenarios for the town to seriously consider to address this public safety issue and virtually all three options included building a new station.

One concept would sell Central Station to help finance the new South Amherst fire station, the other two scenarios would keep Central after multi-million dollar renovations.

A $10 million line item for a new fire station briefly appeared last spring in preliminary budget paperwork, but never made it into the pipeline for serious discussion.

Follow me

Thursday, November 22, 2012

49 Years



My dad was only 49 years old when he passed away suddenly in the dead of night the second week of September,  49 years ago.  He had come home from a job uncharacteristically early that day, a mid-week school day, after whacking his head particularly hard while working in cramped dark quarters -- rather routine conditions for a plumber.  He died from a cerebral hemorrhage.
 
Forty nine years ago today, as he rode in an open car down a Dallas street before a huge throng of adoring fans, President John F. Kennedy was fired upon in sudden spectacular fashion.  Television news was still relatively new compared to radio and newspapers, with the Internet not yet even born.

But television came into its own during those dark days. The urgent initial reports from numerous eyewitnesses confirmed that the President had been grievously wounded in the head.  One CBS reporter in Dallas quoted a surgeon from Parkland Hospital who was in tears saying the president was gone, but the reporter still dutifully used the word "unconfirmed". 

Walter Cronkite, the must trusted man in America, confirmed the horrible, shocking truth that seemed to momentarily stun even him, a consummate professional.   And for next few days tearful Americans huddled in front of their grainy, black-and-white televisions, sharing their grief.

Even now, 49 years later, I can still remember the anguish.  The overpowering anguish.






Wednesday, November 21, 2012

1945: A Historic Thanksgiving


Mother and Son Peeling Potatoes Saturday Evening Post cover, Nov 24, 1945


Original concept Rockwell abandoned because it was "too sad"

One of the more beloved Norman Rockwell prints would not nearly be as memorable -- especially on this festive family holiday -- if he had used the original concept of posing his Arlington, Vermont neighbor in a wheelchair looking deadly serious.

Dick Hagelberg had beaten the onerous odds, surviving 65 daylight bombing missions over Germany without suffering a scratch.  Perhaps why the happier pose, sitting beside his mother, resonated with Rockwell ... and soon thereafter, the entire nation.  

 

A Matter Of Taste

The New York Halal Food cart, North Pleasant Street

Most small business owners would agree that competition is a healthy thing, because when products compete they get better.  At the same time, however, most small business owners would prefer their competition die an instant unhealthy death.

So it comes as no surprise -- especially in this treacherous economy -- that some downtown restaurant owners don't like the idea of a couple of competitors rolling into town every morning and setting up shop for the day, selling relatively cheap hot food to customers on the go. 

Kind of like the Athenian fleet outmaneuvering and mercilessly pounding the larger lumbering Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis.

But is that really direct (unfair) competition with our bricks-and-mortar establishments, who pay (or the owners of the property who pass it along) the ultra high $20/$1,000 valuation tax rate, plus the additional extra overhead of a Business Improvement District tax? 

Chance are the people who grab a quick bite to go were not about to spend the time and extra money for a fancier sit down meal anyway, so probably not.  This tempest in a teapot has arisen numerous times over the past thirty years and usually goes away when winter sets in, making outdoor dining far less hospitable.

The street vendors pay for their town license, pay for the gas to get to their location and run the generators and,  mainly, put in all the time necessary to make it work.

If the town is going to limit those food cart licenses as a form of protectionism, then perhaps they should also think about limiting the number of taxi business licenses sold (now at nearly a dozen) as cutthroat competition has led to maintenance short cuts and bottom of the barrel drivers providing unsafe driving conditions for customers.

As long as the business playing field is level, then let the unmerciful market decide.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't Delay

UPDATE:  The commission voted not to implement a one year demo delay but asked the Design Review Board to look over plans for new construction.  Zoning Board will also decide a Special Permit to allow the new home to be two family vs the current one family zoning.
#####


The Amherst Historical Commission will discuss a possible one-year demolition delay (their maximum authority) for this haunted house located on busy Rt 9, just opposite Amherst College luxurious Pratt Field.

The owner, Peter Wilson, aka Wilson Properties Group, LLC, will not be in attendance tonight as he was never officially notified about the meeting.

In Amherst it is standard practice for the Historical Commission to peruse any demolition permit before allowing the wrecking ball to swing. In September the commission failed to implement a delay on a 100+ year old barn on Lincoln Avenue (possibly connected to poet Robert Frost), thus clearing the way for a housing speculator to construct another rental unit in an area accelerating towards student rental domination. 

If the Historical Commission failed to delay the destruction of the  Lincoln Avenue barn, which was in comparatively good repair, they should not take long deciding to let this scary house fall. 

DUI Dishonor Role

 Drunk drivers also pose a threat to our first responders

One of the more chilling lines buried in a 40 some odd page police log has an almost air of routine to it, perhaps because it was the wee hours of Sunday morning (1:40 AM) on well traveled Rt 9, which is of course what I find so chilling:

"While on a traffic stop, vehicle almost struck me."  The laconic officer pursued the offending vehicle, pulled it over and administered a SFST (Standard Field Sobriety Test) to the driver.  He failed. 

Arrested for DUI and Marked Lanes Violation:

Jacob Bell, 350 Ridge Rd, Athol, MA, age 23

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Expensive View

615 Bay Road, Amherst

Even though the house and entire property are only valued at $343,800 total, safe bet Town Meeting will approve spending $505,000 for the (20 acre) property alone, which is only assessed at $163,500.

Why? Well it is indeed "nice" -- even the reserved assessor noted that on the property card. But one of the main reasons put forth in a memo to Town Meeting is perhaps the most typical argument used over the past forty years for conservation purchases:  

As the appraisal indicates, there is ample frontage and acreage to develop four single-family house lots from the Ricci property. With municipal water on the street and sewer within 300’ of the property, it is a concern of the Town that as the market demand for home sites and housing increases, the owners will seek to develop the property. The adjacent properties to the west succumbed to a similar fate in the early 1980’s as a larger property was subdivided into two large single-family house lots.

Amherst has one of the tightest housing markets in Western Massachusetts, yet we continue to stifle supply in the face of ever increasing demand. In this case, four housing units that will never get built.  And those twenty acres come off the tax rolls in a town where over half the property is already owned by tax exempt entities. 

And it's not like slumlords buy up brand new houses to rent to students. It's the tired older single family units they scoop up and expand the occupancy by two or three times in order to maximize rents.

Interestingly one of the properties refered to in the report to Town Meeting as one of those evil adjacent "large single-family house lots" is the Souweine Top Notch Farm, otherwise known as the "House" immortalized by Tracy Kidder.

Yes, the same book where Mr. Kidder aptly describes Amherst as  “a college and university town, the kind of place that has a fine public school system and a foreign policy.”

If Amherst conservation aficionados had their way, a great book would never have been written. 

Yet the venerable Amherst town seal is a book and a plow.

Property rolls up to the Holyoke Range
UPDATE Tuesday morning. Town Meeting did of course approve the purchase using $151,500 from Community Preservation funds but the bulk of the money ($353,500) will come from a state grant which is far from guaranteed.

Party House of the Weekend

202 College Street, Amherst, Sunday morning 

So you have to wonder what Amherst's Founding Fathers (and mothers) would think of lower College Street these days, since obviously when they were proud enough of the scenic main route to name it in honor our proud destination institutes of higher education, Amherst College and UMass, back in the days well before Hampshire College was even founded?

Today much of College Street has transformed into non-owner occupied student rental housing and a magnet for trouble.  Take 202 College Street for instance, a property managed by Eagle Crest Management, AKA Jamie Cherewatti.

Police were called late Saturday night (11:30 PM) because of loud noise for a very large gathering of college aged youth (400-500), including a bonfire in the backyard and at least one of the party goers was only 17.  Yes Dads (and Moms of course), how does that make you feel:  Your 17-year-old daughter pounding down beers at a party of around 500, packed into a house zoned for eight?!

The Bad Boys hosting the gala event failed to cooperate with numerous responding officers, and were arrested.  Since they were so uncooperative they were hit with both Noise and Nuisance House charges.

Colin Francis O'Neil, 10 Lessard Ctr, East Longmeadow, MA, age 21
Jeffery Stowell, 471 Hoppin Hill Ave, No Attleborough, MA, age 21
Lydia Rose Basque, 711 Beacon St, Newton, MA, age 17, (way) under 21 liquor violation

#####


The party goers at 35 North Whitney Street managed to stand out not only with their loud and obnoxious behavior late Saturday night (11:30 PM), but also distinguished themselves by making racial comments to the Reporting Party looking to quiet down the loud music and noise.

Police stated the party guests were "extremely rude and uncooperative," resulting in the arrests of two residents who provided no help in clearing the party.

Joseph Gervasi, 120 Prospect St, Weymouth, MA, age 22
Joshua Ledin, 96 Randolph St, Weymouth, MA, age 22

 ##### 

219 Amity Street 

Wild women may not get the blues, but in peace loving Amherst if they party hardy and are "extremely uncooperative" with responding Amherst police officers, then they do indeed get arrested.

Arrested for Noise:

Thuong Tran, 114 Hillcrest, Brockton, MA, age 21
Barbara Line, 219 Amity Street, Amherst, MA, age 21
Sonya Belgacem, 6 Brookside Court, Tyngsborough, MA, age 21
Jessica Jorge, 39 Brown Rd, Oxford, MA, age 21

On a more positive note however, police also found a few party locations more willing to cooperate:  

21 Hobart Lane, Friday night 11:35 PM.  Host wanted help clearing out the party and stated he had a good working relationship with "Jack" a private security guard hired by the owners of Gilreath Manor (Lincoln Real Estate).  Police helped clear 100+ guests and gave the host a verbal warning.

480 South Pleasant Street, early Sunday morning 1:00 AM.  Resident requested assistance to help clear 75 guests without incident.  Verbal warning only. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fiery Friday Finale

Professional Help For Crime Victims

Amherst Police Department 111 Main Street

While the town recently lost a $900,000 federal grant to benefit low and moderate income residents and a $4.2 million state grant for road improvements in North Amherst, a potentially lifesaving Amherst Police Department regional program designed to aid those devastated by the horror of sexual assault or domestic abuse snagged a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

The money will continue to fund a full-time counselor who splits her time between UMass and the town, add a part-time counselor for Northampton PD, increase training for all three departments and fund an additional full-time Amherst police officer whose exclusive beat will be sexual assault and domestic violence cases.

The renewal/expansion of the program, originally founded two years ago with $174,000 Justice Department grant, comes soon after our comfortable college town was rocked by a series of sensational sexual assault cases.

A long-form narrative first-person piece published on the front page of the Amherst College student newspaper shone a glaring spotlight on the inadequate system the prestigious college used for handling such sensitive matters.

Followed by a shocking incident of alleged gang rape at a UMass dormitory.

And just when you thought it could not get any worse, the heartrending story of yet another Amherst College student ill-served by an in-house amateur response to a situation requiring highly trained professionals.

Trey Malone committed suicide, leaving behind a devastatingly poignant final farewell blaming his self-induced death on the sexual assault by a fellow student, made even worse by the way Amherst College (mis) handled it.

Could this regional civilian advocacy program have made a difference for Trey?  Although funding is provided by the "Office on Violence Against Women" men most certainly are not excluded.

But, since Amherst College didn't report the incident to local police or the district attorney's office, we will never know.

This essential service program has helped hundreds over the past two years, and will now continue to help hundreds into the future.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Smooth Sailing

What a difference a day makes
 
Crew from Lane Construction prepares to mill and overlay S. Pleasant Street, heart of town center.  Early Christmas present for downtown merchants

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Decadent Crown Jewel



11 Phillips Street, Amherst/UMass border


Since Stephan Gharabegian is the "King of the Decadent Street", owning almost half the hovels on Phillips Street, the slum capital of Amherst & UMass,  I hereby dub (dripping in sarcasm) 11 Phillips Street his crown jewel

Exhibit A:  The most recent Board of Health investigation report that found 11 Phillips Street to be "in violation of the Minimum Standard of Fitness for Human Habitation."

11 Phillips St Health Dept report




Exhibit B:  The most recent Amherst Fire Department investigation citation that found dangerous shortcomings in fire safety requirements and flagrantly ignoring an order to stop using a one-family dwelling (maximum of 4 unrelated tenants) as a boarding house with 13 tenants.

An overcrowded abode, lots of alcohol and defunct fire alarms is a sure fire formula for catastrophe.

11 Phillips St AFD Ticket

And clearly, a recent Worcester Housing Court decision reaffirms the ability of cities and towns to enforce unrelated tenant zoning restrictions.  The town has known about the overcrowded conditions at 11 Philips since at least last June when the Health Department did their inspection.

Yet when Amherst police raided the address on October 30, to shut down an illegal basement bar, that busload of students still lived there.  The town needs to get serious about overcrowded illegal living conditions.  Before a tragedy occurs.

Play it Again Sam


Just to underscore the difference between the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette and little ol' me I offer the following:  nine years ago I tried to run a half-page print ad supporting the Charter Change ballot question (at the ridiculously high "political ad rate"), dumping our antiquated Select Board/Town Meeting form of government for a more nimble, professional Mayor/Council, but I was turned down (at lost revenue to them of almost $1,500).

Why?  Because the ad consisted of only one name, blown up rather prominently, as having endorsed the "Vote yes on the Charter:" A signature ad that had run the previous week with over 500 other names besides his own.  And I hate to now out him, but that lone name was Amherst's (super) state Senator Stan Rosenberg.

The Gazette rationale was that he knowingly signed a signature ad assuming his name would appear with over 500 other names (and as a result get lost) but he had not signed off on a rather large spotlight.  My theory is when you go public, you go public -- all the way baby.

Take this Cowardly Anon Nitwit for instance.  He made a Comment at 3:41 AM this morning on a post from 6 months ago that would normally only get a couple dozen views -- mainly from folks doing a Google search for any of the numerous names that appear.

And obviously he is friends with one or two because how else would he know that some of the kids I mention are "recent graduates".



Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Last Hurrah Party House Blowout":

I am appalled that you think it is okay to post the names and addresses of these young students and recent graduates. As I read this, and the string of comments attached, I wonder if you have ever attended college? Have you ever pursued a higher education? There may be flaws with the education system, and higher education is certainly not without its share of flaws. However, it is a community in which young adults can grow and learn from their accomplishments as well mistakes. I am biased, I suppose, as I am a doctoral student studying education. What is rather amusing, however, is the fact that you are still in the town in which you were raised, posting personal information about people you do not know. Why don't you post some of your flaws and your street address? I am sure that you have rolled through a stop sign, crossed a street without using the crosswalk, or perhaps upset a few people in your day.
You harp on people who disturbed the public, and yet here you are, disturbing the public.


Larry Kelley has left a new comment on your post "Last Hurrah Party House Blowout":

Seems to me the only ones I'm "disturbing" are the a-holes who party too much.
But thanks for stopping by. Now go work on your dissertation.


I'm actually happy the CAN brought me back to that particular Party House post.  In light of recent events, it's certainly worth revisiting.  Notice the record setting number of arrests (a dozen) at 11 Phillips Street that weekend.  Yes, that is the same house we now know had 14 kids living in it! (although it is only zoned for 4).

And they paid the rent by operating an alleged illegal basement bar at all hours of the night/early morning. If the town and UMass really want to send a message about these insidious student slums, then they should join together to support taking Phillips Street by eminent domain (via the Amherst Redevelopment Authority) and allowing a responsible developer to rebuild a Phoenix housing project we can all can be proud of.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Remembering Those Who Served

 14 members of APD ... remembered

A granite monument memorializing former Amherst Police Department officers with at least 15 years of service now welcomes visitors using the Main Street front entrance to the department headquarters.

Any organization is only as good as the men and women who make it up.  And honoring those departed members who came before you helps perpetuate the professionalism this department is known for.

Banned in Amherst

Probably the #1 purveyor of expanded polystyrene in Amherst, but America runs on it

 UPDATE Wednesday morning:  As Brookline goes ...

Based on a distinct lack of pre-Town Meeting buzz, I feel safe predicting the request for a ban on expanded polystyrene by the Recycling and Refuse Management Committee (article #9) will easily pass our esteemed legislative body, especially since it only require a majority vote.

Perhaps another reminder of how hard it is to get zoning items passed that also benefit the general public at large but may, in a narrow sense, inconvenience a few neighbors. A two thirds vote is a very high hurdle.

And it's not like Amherst government is leading the charge on this issue as the majority of impacted businesses and our institutes of higher education have already ditched expanded polystyrene.

A far cry from a dozen years ago when the Amherst Board of Health started the 'Smoking Ban in Bars War', a huge controversy that played out for a year, and is now so completely accepted statewide that most people forget what an epic battle it was.

My farmer friends would probably describe this current ban as "locking the barn door after the horse is gone," or my more colorful air force friends would dub it a "milk run". 

Monday, November 12, 2012

DUI Dishonor Role

 Carnage caused by alcohol 

Only one DUI to report over the weekend, an almost record low. But drunk drivers are like encephalitis infected mosquitoes: it only takes one to ruin your life or that of friends, family or loved ones.

Around 1:00 AM early Sunday morning an improperly parked vehicle along Boltwood Walk in the heart of the downtown business district (close to all the bars) attracted police attention, thus giving the officer probably cause to question the parked driver. 

The occupant "displayed signs of impairment" and she was given a Field Sobriety Test, which she failed, capped off by a Portable Breath Test (not admissible in court) reaffirming impairment with a .142% Blood Alcohol Concentration.  Later, back at the station -- only a couple hundred yards away -- she blew a .126% BAC, or .08, on the more accurate Breathalyzer machine that is admissible in court.

Arrested for DUI:
Kristen Gargiulo, 286 Sunset Avenue (UMass dorm), Amherst, age 20,

Free $ No More

 Pine Street, North Amherst center

The town seems to have hit a dry spell acquiring Other People's Money for expensive infrastructure improvements.

First it was Community Development Block Grant funds from the federal government, a cool million no longer coming our way; and now the state has passed over a $4 million MassWorks Project proposal to upgrade North Amherst's Pine Street roadway, including water/sewer and sidewalks.

"Economic development" is one of the main criteria for MassWorks approval. Last spring, fearing more student party houses, Amherst Town Meeting vetoed the smart growth rezoning proposal for North Amherst.  Only months later, the town applied for the ill fated MassWorks construction grant. 

Now just another concrete casualty of rowdy student behavior.

Party House of the long Weekend

 233 East Pleasant Street, Amherst

Unseasonably warm weather and a long holiday weekend (at least for UMass students) combined to keep the party level high enough to attract late night police response to a number of locations around town, one of them at 4:19 AM this morning.

But only one house was bad-boy enough to garner an arrest, rather than verbal warning or civil infraction $300 ticket. Late Saturday night (11:30 PM) police were called to 233 East Pleasant Street, immediate neighbor to the town owned Hawthorne Farm, for loud music and college aged kids milling about the well-traveled road just outside town center.

Between 100 and 200 guests were cleared out by multiple responding units but party house host Michael Vuona, a UMass student, was nothing if not uncooperative, attempting to pull away from an officer. Police also confirm a "live DJ" was present contributing to the noise problem, although no word if it was former UMass student, Party Poster Boy, Peter Clark.

Michael Vuona, 233 East Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA, age 22. Arrested for Noise and Resisting arrest.

About a half-hour later police responded to 338 Pine Street called by a nearby neighbor who reported to dispatch they had just counted "11 taxis dropping off students." Upon arrival police were asked by tenants for help clearing the party explaining that a simply birthday party had suddenly grown exponentially and gotten out of their control.

Because the party hosts were proactive (albeit last minute) and cooperative, police issued a verbal warning only.

A 21-year-old resident of 260 Grantwood Drive (who actually gives his legal address as so), however, garnered a $300 noise ticket after police found him and some friends loudly playing "beer pong" on the screened in porch at 4:19 this morning.

Police also paid multiple visits to houses tucked along South Prospect Street as they have done on previous weekends. In fact, an officer, as part of "community policing" visited a neighbor earlier in the day to hear her complaints about noise coming from #37. She has a small child and the late night decibels are playing havoc with sleep patterns. Sure enough, late Saturday (11:24 PM) police issued a warning to #37 South Prospect for loud noise.

The previous night police issued three residents of #55 South Prospect Street $300 noise tickets.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Killer on the road

Roadside memorial for Daniel Haley., Rt 116 northbound Hadley/Amherst line, parallel to UMass football stadium

Since his assailant was going the wrong way on a state highway and he was only a few miles from his Amherst apartment after a long late-night motorcycle trip from Pittsfield, it's safe to assume they were both going at least the 55 mph speed limit.

When he initially spotted her bearing down he may have assumed it was just an optical illusion -- that she was actually in the southbound lane where she belonged.  After all, who would anticipate a car going the wrong way on such a well marked, well maintained divided roadway, on such a clear night?

And in that split-second realization a high-speed missile was indeed locked on him, maybe he thought the UMass exit -- only a few hundred yards ahead -- could provide safe haven.  But two objects hurtling towards one another leaves little time to carry out a deliberative decision.

Whatever desperate evasive maneuver taken by Daniel Haley, age 24, it was not enough.  He was killed instantly, only a month before his scheduled UMass graduation.  By a drunk driver.  Worse, and all too typical, a repeat offender:  Brittini Benton, age 23, of Sunderland.

In a judicial review of 57,000 DUI cases spanning four years, sparked by a Boston Globe Spotlight team expose on leniency towards drunk drivers in Massachusetts, an independent special counsel found juries acquit drunken driving cases over half the time (58%).   But judges in similar situations (where a defense attorney has waived the right to jury trial) acquit a whopping 86% of the time!

In Massachusetts a driver can refuse a breathalyzer test without penalty of a license suspension, if they are later acquitted of the drunk driving charge.  And in the absence of concrete scientific evidence provided by a breathalyzer, that acquittal, sadly, is more likely to happen.

Allowing careless potential killers back on the road. So once again, sweet family will die.

Thank You!


These colors require constant vigilance.  Our Veterans make it so