Thursday, February 28, 2013


 Assistant Chiefs McKay and Stromgren, Chief Nelson

Thursday morning the Joint Capital Planning Committee heard a presentation from AFD top brass for capital items needed in the upcoming year to help protect public safety (more on that later).

But first Chief Nelson updated the committee on the l-o-n-g sought new South Fire Station and the breaking news was -- for a change -- good news.

Or for you folks living in South Amherst, very good news.

The Chief reports the "search and acquisition phase" for land is quickly coming to a close, one that will "finally bring this whole thing to fruition."  Chief Nelson quickly added, "It almost scares me because it makes too much sense."

While no specific seller was mentioned (or possible donor) since the project is called "South Station" it's for sure going to be located in South Amherst, and the Chief confirmed it woulld be along RT 116/South Pleasant Street within a mile or 1.5 miles of town center.
While AFD Central Station is not quite as old as this 1888 bell, pretty close: 1928 

A $10 to $12 million capital request for a new South Station has appeared over the past couple years on five-year-plan spreadsheets brought before the JCPC. 

When I ran for Select Board in 1988 my simple platform was to sell the recently acquired municipal Cherry Hill Golf Course and put the proceeds into a new fire station in South Amherst.

The Chief also mentioned to JCPC he found reference to a 1955 consultant's report that called for a new additional station.

Safe & Healthy Controversy

Crowd of 35 at Feb 24 Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group meeting

You can tell by the growing spectator attendence that the SHNWG is getting close to their final draft which will be passed along to Town Manager John Musante, the Amherst Select Board in time for a bylaw proposal to come before Town Meeting, which will only require a majority vote.

And no, that should not take long at all.

But you have to consider this has been in the making since the 1970s when UMass went on a growth spurt and our rental housing stock has never caught up.

 Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group ... at work

Unlike the packed meeting earlier in the day over at Echo Village concerning the eviction of low income tenants, a negative offshoot of Amherst's tight rental housing market, this more formal meeting also brought together concerned players: town officials, neighbors, activists, landlords, developers ... but no tenants, student or otherwise. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DUI Dishonor Roll

 Mill Lane near South Pleasant Street

So this drunk driving incident Sunday evening, could have been tragic in, oh, so many ways.

If not for a large old fallen tree the auto would have ended up in the freezing Fort River.  In fact a chain saw had to be called in to get the car up and out of the embankment.

And when you're impaired enough not to negotiate a very minor curve in the road, chances are you would also have trouble escaping a vehicle quickly filling up with frigid, fast moving water.

If first responders arrived in time they would put themselves at great risk fishing the driver out of the river.

Since Mill Lane is one of the last unpaved roads in Amherst it is a well used path for joggers and dog walkers, like my wife for instance.  And 9:46 p.m. is not all that late.

Click to enlarge/read

Costly Conflict


In case you thought the Amherst Pelham Region School Committee is a rubber-stamping flock of sheep, ponder this snippet from their 2/12 meeting where Rob Detweiler gave a budget update for the half-way point of the Fiscal Year.

So he tells the committee that with the year only half over ARPS has already paid out $200,000 in legal claims putting that part of the Special Education Budget over by $330,000.  Yikes!

And what is their response?  Nothing, nada, zip.  No questions, no observations, no nothing.

Anyone else concerned over why the taxpayers are out over $200,000 in legal settlements?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tenants United

About 25 people packed into the Family Outreach office located in a commercial building owned by Eagle Crest Management, AKA Jamie Cherewatti, to strategize a response to sudden eviction notices for all the tenants living in Echo Village Apartments located next door, 24 units of -- by Amherst standards anyway -- affordable housing.

A little less than half the crowd was made up of a (Section 8) tenants and the rest was a fusion of government and non-profit personnel from the Amherst Schools, Amherst Housing Authority, Planning Department, Legal Services and even the NAACP.

Also hard to miss was former Echo Village tenant, who said he was "paid to leave", Motown Benny.  Although at one point in the meeting he was asked to stop talking and "get down off his political soapbox."
Motown Benny (Johnson)

The good news was tenants did not have to abide by the 3/31 deadline demand to vacate the premises. But that is the trigger date for Mr. Cherewatti to start legal eviction proceedings  in Housing Court, and then of course it's up to the judge to decide.

Eagle Crest claims all tenants can "reapply" for tenancy on April 1st (no foolin) as long as they have moved out by March 31.  Although one official reported Eagle Crest must give 60 days advance notice before implementing a rent increase to Section 8 tenants, which he has not done.  The management firm has, however, giving notice of "termination."

The really bad news is that Cherewatti can indeed raise the rent and that will price all Section 8 tenants out of the market anyway.  Said one frustrated official, "Our hands are tied on so many levels."

Six weeks ago Cherewatti purchased the property, assessed at $2.1 million, for $3 million, and is now raising rents the same 30% or so he overpaid.  Just business.

Although, you can't put a price on a positive public image. 

An Unattended Death

 Station Road Bike Path parking lot

Last Tuesday in the early morning hours first responders descended on the Station Road Bike Path parking lot to deal with a tragic sad scene:  a suicide.

But one that endangered them as well, because Jim Tan, age 22,  had set off a chemical cocktail in his car, which posed a potentially deadly threat to anyone else who should come into contact with it.

Fortunately he took the time to post warning signs on the car window. This is the second time someone has chosen to end their life in this manner in our little town. 

EMTs stood by for hours, Amherst Police closed off Station Road and the State Fire Marshall and the regional state HazMat team arrived to perform a careful investigation/clean up, which took six hours.

Why are you just hearing this disturbing detail now?

Well, UMass doesn't want to acknowledge/advertise one of its students committed suicide, state officials don't want Copy Cats getting any ideas, and traditional media -- even if they did have the story -- would have privacy concerns much like those dealt with in the case of rape victims, although in this case the concern is for the family.

But the death occurred on public property, potentially endangered public employees, and highlights what could be a growing problem.

The People have a right to know.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Much Needed Development Planned

Cowls woodland since 1888 

Up to 170 cottage style student housing units sheltering a total of 680 tenants could soon be developed in the Cushman Village Center near Amherst's number one employer and target demographic, the University of Massachusetts. 

Landmark Properties bills "The Retreat" as a "cluster conservation subdivision" that will "provide students with an award winning, high quality, highly amenitized lifestyle in their own community of single family and attached homes."

Map of proposed development (click to enlarge)
The 154 acre parcel is currently owned and manged by the W.D. Cowls company, the state's largest private landowner. The property is in Chapter 61 Forest Conservation.  As a result the wooded acreage is current valued at $67/acre or a little over $10,000. 

The Amherst Select Board will have to sign off on releasing the land from Chapter 61, and they have 120 days to implement a"right of first refusal".

Considering the $6.5 million purchase price, it's highly unlikely the town will buy it.  Amherst could, however, transfer the right of first refusal to another non-profit agency, such as the Kestrel Land Trust.  But again, at that price, hard to match.

If developed by a private entity the project would also pay Amherst hundreds of thousands in property taxes annually.  

Amherst currently has an exceedingly tight 3.5% vacancy rate and conversions of single family homes to student rooming houses have caused problems all over town.

A classic Catch 22:  any proposal to add student housing is met with NIMBY resistance for fear of it becoming a riotous Frat Row.  Because no dense developments have been constructed to match increasing enrollment at UMass, the penny ante developers have converted traditional single family homes to student housing with no professional management, a recipe for disaster.

Safe to say locals are already sharpening their pitchforks and soaking torches in gasoline.

What Are They Afraid Of?

The infallible Amherst Select Board

The Amherst Select Board this evening by a 3-2 "consensus" declined to place an advisory question before town voters to get their opinion on the merits of flying the commemorative flags in the downtown annually on 9/11, rather than the once-every-five-years plan currently in place.

Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe was, as usual, the deciding vote -- although she did not have the courage to actually let the board take a formal vote.

And now they have denied the people of Amherst the right to vote on this (Only In Amherst) volatile issue.


So in addition to all the dangerously drunk (ETOH) college aged youth AFD and ambulances from four surrounding towns transporting to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital from the Tiesto concert at the Mullins Center Thursday night, the weekend did not go much better when it comes to all things alcohol.

   AFD Weekend late Feb by  

Two * calls had to be handled by mutual aid ambulances

Amherst Fire Department transported 9 patients (out of a total of 11 EMS calls) from UMass to the local hospital because of alcohol abuse. Of course UMass will cite all their survey statistics to show binge drinking is going down or "72% of UMass students support the campus alcohol policies."

Put that on the gravestone of the next kid to die from alcohol related abuse.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Stirring Symbol

Two paramount things the American flag represents -- which I hope we ALL agree on -- is the right of the People to vote on matters both great and small, and the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances.

Tonight both those qualities come in to play, as I go before the Amherst Select Board to request they place the question of flying 29 commemorative flags in the downtown every 9/11 on the upcoming April 9 town election ballot.  That way citizens can finally decide this ongoing issue, which annually brings notoriety to the town.

On the night of September 10, 2001 while a pernicious plot against our country was just starting to unfold, the Amherst Select Board voted to allow 29 commemorative flags to fly on only six occasions, some sad, some celebratory.  

Six weeks after 9/11 I asked that Select Board to add 9/11 to the permanent days the commemorative flags could fly.  They refused, but allowed them up on the first anniversary and again in 2003.

But a change in leadership ushered in a Dark Ages and the flags did not fly again until 2009 under a "compromise" that said they could fly once every three years.

That ridiculous compromise was based on a shameful May16, 2007 two-thirds Town Meeting vote  (96-41) against flying the flags on 9/11 -- ever!  In 2010 SB Chair Stephanie O'keeffe hatched yet another compromise to allow them to fly every 5th year on "milestone anniversaries". 

Tonight the Select Board will take up discussion of a proposal/promise I made to them on September 10, 2012.  I'm not a betting man, but I firmly believe they will do the right thing.

Welcome Back!

Ladder 1, "back in service". North Station.

Tighter Housing Market

Amherst College (named after the town, not the General)

So the already squeaky tight rental housing market in Amherst, everybody's  favorite college town, will get a little tighter this upcoming school year as the construction projects at Amherst College, our #1 landowner and property taxpayer, displaces 60 students from on-campus housing.

Sure, losing 15 apartment units out of total rental stock of 5,000 doesn't sound like much, and since the apartments normally rent for $2,540 + utilities, not overly affordable for families.

But in a town with a vacancy rate of only 3.5%, described by the Housing and Sheltering Committee as "well below state and national levels and representative of extremely tight market conditions," every unit matters.

At least the neighborhood will not have to worry about rowdyism. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Setting A (bad) Example

Katherine Appy, Amherst School Committee Chair

So it will be interesting to see if the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette follows up on the recent expose published by my friends at the Republican, although they did not connect an important dot concerning Ms. Appy's role as a member of the Amherst School Committee.

You know, the elected folks who should be setting a good, positive example for the kids in a town where education is King (or Queen, as the case may be).

And of course the other consideration is how quickly would the Gazette have jumped on this if it had involved the school committee member Katherine Appy replaced?

Or what would have been the response on the Internet from Cowardly Anon Nitwits?  Ms. Sanderson would have been tarred-and-feathered, and then crucified with dull, extra long, rusty nails.

A Positive Spin

 Mullins Center Thursday night (be afraid of the dark)

If you threw a UMass News and Media Relations PR flack off the top of one of the Southwest Towers, about half way down he would tweet how refreshing is the air flow.  Another one stationed on the 3rd floor would announce how well he is doing ... so far.

So I guess it is not surprising that, according to UMass spokesperson Daniel J. Fitzgibbons, our higher education officials were "satisfied" with the response to the Tiesto concert, despite  the swamping of Emergency Medical Services on Thursday night for alcohol related calls.

In other words, get used to it!

So anytime the Mullins Center schedules a techno dubstep "artist" we can just write off emergency first responder service to the rest of Amherst and four other nearby towns that rely on AFD for ambulance serivces for three or four hours.

Yeah, that's a (pernicious) plan.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tax Exempt Entity Taxes EMS

 AFD on scene Mullins Center

Just as "party houses" should not disrupt the tranquility of a neighborhood so taxpayers have to deal with the mitigation mess, neither should UMass allow the Mullins Center to host concerts that swamp our emergency medical services. 

Take last night for instance:  AFD and four other surrounding towns had to provide ambulance transport for 19 patrons of the Tiesto concert directly from the Mullins Center to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and two more from UMPD jail to CDH.

Yes, none of them were UMass students. But the Mullins Center is owned by the UMass Building Authority, sits on UMass land, cost taxpayers $50 million to build (with six digit annual operation losses), and pays no property taxes to either Hadley or Amherst.

Back in 2000 the Hadley assessor tried to partially tax the facility arguing that Ogden Entertainment was a private company and rock concerts had nothing to do with higher education. 

The Appelate Tax Board found against the town of Hadley saying Ogden was an independent contractor "merely providing contractual management services". Since certain type of concerts -- techno for one -- seem to produce a high number of ETOH (alcohol overdose) calls, Mullins Center does pay for one ambulance to stage on site.

But after the last fiasco, also a Thursday night,  Chief Nelson talked them into contracting for two ambulance crews on standby.  Last night required five. 

Dancing Peeps. Dehydration and alcohol make for a lousy mix.

When mere entertainment taxes our vital services so heavily, it's time to get serious about solutions:  Maybe the Mullins Center needs to start dancing to a different beat.

UMass will be so proud

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thumping Thursday

 All sorts of first responders on scene Mullins Center: AFD, UMPD, Environmental Health/Safety

As I write this the "Tiesto" techno concert at the Mullins Center is still going on, minus at least 13 concert goers who have been taken by ambulance to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital for alcohol related emergencies.

Ambulances have descended on the UMass campus from Belchertown, Northampton, Westfield, and South Hadley to aid the Amherst Fire Department in handling the rash of calls.

With most of our on duty firefighters dealing with drunks at the Mullins Center, it would be a lousy time for a major structure fire to occur-- like the one that took a life at Rolling Green Apartments last

Ambulances are coming and going at the Mullins Center, UMass Amherst

Will Commemorative Flags Fly On 9/11?

9/11/11 Amherst Town Common. Photo by Greg Saulmon 

On Monday night 7:30 p.m.  the Amherst Select Board will decide if the people of Amherst can decide -- once and for all -- whether commemorative American flags can fly in the downtown on 9/11 to honor and remember the 3,000 innocent souls lost that awful morning.

By a simple majority vote the five member SB can place a question before the voters on the upcoming April 9 local election ballot.

On May 16, 2007 representative Amherst Town Meeting voted by a shameful 96-41 against allowing the flags to fly every 9/11.

Every September since the day of the attack, I have gone before the Amherst Select Board to request the 29 commemorative flags fly on 9/11.  Only twice since 2003 have they been allowed up under "compromise" proposals, first by SB Chair Gerry Weiss allowing them to fly once every three years, and most recently by Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe alowing them up once every five years, on "milestone anniversaries".

According to this schedule 2016 is the next time the flags will be allowed to fly, on the 15th anniversary.   Last summer the town received a boatload of negative press over the contentious issue.

Kind of ironic that the Select Board will also discuss a request to raise the Tibetan flag ...

RECEIVED: 2/21/13 at 3:47 pm. MEETING TIME: 6:30 pm. LOCATION: Town Room, Town Hall. LIST OF TOPICS: Public Comment. Mt. Holyoke Range Advisory Committee Appointments. Food Truck Regulations Update. FY14 Budget Discussion. Town Manager, Select Board Member and Chair's Reports. Request to Place Question April 9, 2013 election ballot. Untimed Items: Request to raise Tibetan Flag 03-10-13; Warrants for Upcoming Elections; Select Board Meeting Schedule; Parking and Street Closure Requests; New Taxi Driver/Chauffeur Licenses; Special Liquor Licenses; Approve Minutes; and Committee Appointments as presented. Topics the Chair did not reasonably anticipate 48 hours before the meeting.

2nd Time's The Charm?

 Former location 25 South Pleasant Street town center

Scandihoovians, a Northampton men's and woman's jewelry store, will make another attempt at carving out a successful niche in the vibrant -- but some would argue expensive -- downtown Amherst commercial district.

This time they are going to occupy the only commercial space in the sparkling new Boltwood Place five-story mixed use building with a great view, sandwiched between the Boldwood Parking Garage and Judie's Restaurant. The dozen luxury apartments are already fully occupied.

Scandihoovians briefly occupied the space next to Bank of America owned by artist and author Rich Michelson, who consolidated his Amherst gallery into the Northampton location five years ago.  

Last summer Silverscape Designs, an iconic Amherst jewelry store also consolidated by closing its longtime Amherst operation and merging with their downtown Northampton location.

New location coming soon to Amherst's coolest new downtown building

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Render Unto Ceasar

Echo Village:  Under New Management (and ownership)

So I guess it should come as no surprise that the first thing Eagle Crest Management does with their recently acquired $3 million property is to raise the rents, thus forcing out most of the clientele in the 24 unit apartment complex, many of them low income, Section 8 tenants.

Quite the ecosystem at work:  Jamie Cherewatti buys the property, valued at $2.1 million, from Jerry Gates who is on the Board of Directors for Craig's Doors Homeless Shelter.  Good thing the Amherst Select Board recently ignored Town Manager John Musante's less than enthusiastic support and allowed the shelter to expand from 16 to 22 beds.

When he appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals last April to testify in behalf of his successful request to double occupancy at 156 Sunset Avenue, Jamie Cherewatti said plaintively, "I don't want to be known as the slumlord of Amherst."

So maybe he plans to invest millions in the Echo Hill apartment units and rent to upscale blue bloods.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps he will just replace the current, sometime problematic clients, with his usual Modus Operandi, students.  

These days Cherewatti seems to be diversifying his property holdings using a variety of legal entities:  He moved Eagle Crest, his real estate management company, to above one of the more rowdy bars in downtown Amherst -- Stacker's -- after buying the building.   Plus ownership of a slew of expanded rentals all over town, as well as managing a number of units that have earned my prestigious,  'Party House of the Weekend' award

No matter what his final plans are for Echo Village Apartments it's clear the 24 units will no longer be considered "affordable" by state definition.  And when Amherst is already less than 1% above the threshold for the ultimate bogeyman, a Chapter 40B development coming to town, every single affordable unit matters.

This will be used by some landlords as ammunition to try to shoot down rental registration/permit system bylaw coming to Town Meeting this spring.  The argument will be that Amherst strangles developers in red tape so no one will want to build housing in town -- affordable or market rate -- thus increasing the likely hood of falling below the 10% threshold.

Of course after the Gateway Project was scuttled by NIMBYs, perhaps a 40-B development is the only way to make serious gains on our chronic rental housing shortage.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Election Snoozer

Stephanie O'Keeffe Select Board Chair (center), John Coull,her dad, Amherst Redevelopment Authority Chair (ducking), Jada Kelley (cute kid).  Back when elections were (sort of) exciting

With contests in only half the ten town meeting precincts and only one contest for town wide positions, no pocket book Override (fortunately) or Charter change of government (unfortunately) on the ballot, the April 9 annual spring town election promises to be about as exciting as watching snow melt.

When asked what she thought the voter turnout would be, Town Clerk Sandra Burgess responded succinctly: "low."

For the second election in a row, Select Board -- the highest political position in town -- incumbents Alisa Brewer and Jim Wald have no opposition, so their three year term renewal is guaranteed.  (A write in candidate has never beaten a candidate who appears on the ballot in the modern age.)

Moderator Harrison Gregg has retired his gavel after almost 20 years of service and his occasional pinch hitter over the years, Jim Pistrang, will have no opposition for the important position.

Amherst School Committee has two seats up for grabs and three candidates:  Richard Hood (incumbent), Kathleen Traphagen and Amherst College Professor Barry O'Connell.  None of them appear to be even remotely as forthright or controversial as former School Committee member Catherine Sanderson, so the campaign will be a genteel affair.

Some might even argue, boring. 

Although a dozen UMass students in the mix, including SGA President Akshay Kapoor,  could spice things up.  Or not.

 8 candidates for 8 seats (3 of them students)

Rental registration, with a concurrent permit system, will be the most contentious issue on the Town Meeting warrant.  For over a generation Amherst has struggled with too little housing and too many students resulting in high rents, substandard, dangerous slum houses, and distressed neighbors.

The Safe & Health Neighborhood working group will make a recommendation to the Town Manager on rental registration and permits.

Since it will be a General By Law change the measure will only require a majority vote at Town Meeting rather than the super-majority that is required for Zoning articles.

Town Meeting starts May 6.

Most competitive Precinct with 15 candidates for 8 three-year seats

Least competitive precinct (mine)

Always Competitive Precinct 7

 Competitive Precinct 9

Precinct 10

DUI Dishonor Roll

If texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving then what the Hell is Driving Under the Influence while texting? Staggering across a freshly laid mine field in military terms, except you are piloting a deadly weapon, so the probability of collateral damage is exponentially increased.

Yes it may have been very early in the AM when most responsible adults are home in bed, but do we really want to surrender the safe use of our streets after midnight?

After her car "crashed in a snowbank" around 3:00 AM early Friday morning on lower Main Street, and then failing a Field Sobriety Test, Amherst Police arrested Alexandra N. Jacobs, age 20, (a UMass student) for DUI, marked lanes violation and texting while driving.


Southwest Towers 2 of 5

With UMass Southwest high rise Towers now fifty years old, I guess it's not surprising they are having maintenance issues. And with the new Amherst Fire Department policy to respond to a stuck elevator whenever campus technicians are not on duty the runs to UMass are starting to add up.

Previously AFD would only respond if their were medical issues associated with folks trapped inside the elevator.

This past weekend over half the AFD Fire runs to UMass were for "stuck elevators" (4 out of 7 calls).  And half our ambulance EMS runs (7 of 14) were for ETOH cases (alcohol overdose).

But I'm more than certain that is better than a real fire w-a-y up there on the 22nd floor.

Click top line title  for a better view

Monday, February 18, 2013

Party Permit?

Meadow Street Mayhem last Spring

The Safe & Healthy Neighborhood working group is furiously formulating a rental registration and permitting system bylaw for approval at the Annual Spring Town Meeting, to deal with that age old blight on Amherst residential neighborhoods -- the Party House. 

One of the other ideas being worked on (hopefully not too hard)  is a joint effort of the town and UMass to have students pre-register off campus parties.  Presumably if a party gets out of hand, the police will be a tad more accommodating because at least the party hosts had registered the event.

But if police are called to the atypical rowdy party going full blast and the hosts have not registered the event, then police will be a little harder on the perpetrators, and have one more charge to add to the roster. 

The latter will of course be the norm.
Some states have tried to "tax" illegal marijuana over the years by requiring dealers to pre purchase "tax stamps" for their contraband.  If cops bust a dealer without the stamps then officials can seize their personal property, or something like that.

It doesn't work very well.  Amazingly.

Kind of like trying to keep guns out of the hands of pernicious perps. Whatever rules you impose on the vast majority of law abiding citizens will be ignored by the wackos or hard core criminals.

And it only takes one of them to do astounding damage.

With "party registrations" Chief Livingstone recently told the Amherst Zoning Board, "I'm guessing we're heading in that direction".  But he was quick to add it should be overseen by the Dean of Students office because he didn't think the students would voluntarily come to the Amherst Police Department to register their event.

Safe bet.

 Sober Shuttle for one 2/17 1:22 AM

Perhaps a reason why the 'Sober Shuttle' in downtown Amherst seems to be having a hard time attracting a whole lot of student ridership:  the presence of a uniformed UMPD officer.

Early Sunday morning the 1:20 AM shuttle had only one rider and the 2:00 AM shuttle, if it did show up, would have had zero. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Party House Primer

Chief Livingstone
Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone paid a visit to the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday to educate them about "Nuisance House" enforcement -- an important component of Town Manager John Musante's Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.

First off the Chief dispelled the myth that police officers drive around in their patrol cars looking for parties.  "We need to have to have a complainant, a valid complainant to dispatch an officer to a disturbance".

Usually easy to find in the form of a neighbor losing the peaceful enjoyment of their home.

The Chief reports that APD responds to between 900 and 1,200 quality of life (noise/nuisance) complaints annually, with only a minority resulting in action by the responding officers, i.e. a $300 ticket or arrest for TBL violation (Town By Law).

But that percentage is going up:  In the most recent year about 20% of the overall responses resulted in tickets or arrests, whereas the previous year it was only 14%. 

A lot depends on "cooperation at the door".  Meaning when officers first arrive do the responsible tenants comply with requests to tone down the rowdy behavior.  If not, and other infractions besides noise -- underage drinking, large crowds, haphazard parking of cars, littering -- are disrupting the neighborhood, then "Nuisance House" tickets are issued,  or arrests made. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals is considering tying a Special Permit (to expand the rental capacity of a house, almost always made by an absentee landlord) to "conditions" that must be met in an ongoing way.

And becoming a "nuisance house" would violate a condition, and bring with it the loss of that Special Permit.

The house would then revert back to the original capacity of only 4 unrelated tenants, a major loss of rental revenue.

Amherst building commissioner Rob Morra recently won a major victory defending the town's no more than  4 unrelated tenants in a one family dwelling bylaw.  Prominent landlord Grandonico Properties, LLC packed students into rental property on Hobart Lane, including illegally converting substandard basements into bedrooms and then tried to blame it on the student occupants.

Simply fining the noisy party house participants has not solved the problem.  Chief Livingstone stated no landlord has been fined yet since it takes a third nuisance house ticket to trip that regulation, but he declared confidently "It's going to happen this Spring."

Currently two locations on Phillips Street have two nuisance house tickets each.

Phillips Street

A dozen years ago when Amherst led the charge on banning smoking in the workplace, including bars, fines alone (issued to the bar, not the patron) had minimal impact.  Only when faced with loss of their liquor license did barowners learn the value of compliance.

Revoke a Special Permit from a slumlord for too many noise violations, thereby instantly cutting their revenues in half, and that party house will quickly go quiet.  One way or the other ...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chinese Outsourcing


The grim budget news for Amherst Regional Public Schools just got a whole lot grimmer with the surprising -- to me anyway -- news that Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Chester is recommending the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter  School be allowed to expand, at but only at the high school level.

PVCIC was founded in 2007, and briefly did business in South Amherst.   The charter school has already absorbed 52 Amherst elementary students, up from 35 in 2010, out of their current total enrollment of 280.

The Chinese Charter school petitioned the state to allow them to more than double in enrollment to 684: 240 High School students and 444 elementary. Commissioner Chester is approving the expansion to High School which will increase enrollment by 284 students to a total of 584.

Charter schools have a financial incentive to raid the public schools in the area with a higher funding, like Amherst, because they receives from the state the per student average cost of the sending district.

Thus it is far more lucrative to acquire a student from Amherst elementary system at $17,116 in profit than, say, Hadley at only $9,770, which is well below the state average of $13,361.

And now that PVCIC will also expand fully to a High School, how many of the 1,533 Amherst Regional High School students will they steal appropriate away at $17,916 per head?

Ironically the current Chinese charter school leadership, founders Principal Kathy Wang and Executive Director Rich Alcorn (who are married), originally offered the language program lock, stock and barrel to the Amherst public schools, but they were turned down. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

" for our kids"

Kathy Mazur (left) In the Hot Seat 

While they may not have carried pitchforks and torches, sixteen concerned parents showed up to voice their strong concerns this morning at a coffee hour with rookie Amherst School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz, who is also the parent of a Crocker Farm second grader.

But the session became more of a give-and-take with Superintendent Maria Geryk's right hand person, Director of Human Resources Kathy Mazur, who found herself defending the budget decisions of the MIA Superintendent.

One major complaint was the decision to promote former Crocker Farm Principal Mike Morris to Director of Teacher Evaluations and moving him to "Central Office," not that anyone was complaining about the job currently being done by co-Principals Deryk Shea and Anne Marie Foley.

 Co-Principal Derek Shea at Crocker Farm concert

To which Mr. Shabazz responded, "Crocker Farm took a hit and that has not been acknowledged by the Superintendent (Maria Geryk)"

Amherst School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz also UMass Du Bois Professor of Afro-American Studies

The move to Central Office by Morris also sank the idea of turning Crocker Farm into an "innovation school."

EJ Mills questions an $80,000 Grant Writer

Amherst has a reputation for being top heavy with administrators so it was only natural the new budget proposal, which calls for two additional administrators in Central Office but cuts teachers and para professionals, would be controversial.  

At $17, 916 Amherst has one of the highest costs per student in the state  (compared to neighboring Hadley at $9,770) and an "administration" cost per pupil 65% higher than state average.

Amherst Schools by the (state) numbers