Tuesday, April 30, 2013

DUI Dishonor Roll

 36% of all traffic deaths in Massachusetts are DUI-related 

Lucky thing you were not using the crosswalk on E Pleasant Street early Saturday morning or you may have run into Cecilia Jean Jensen -- or, more likely, she could have run into you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

(Repeat) Party House of the Weekend

 1190 North Pleasant Street, Saturday afternoon

With the official inauguration of UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, SoccerFest, Amherst's Sustainability Festival, events at Amherst College and the Ice Stars for Warriors event at the Mullins Center, our quaint little college town was in overdrive this past weekend.

As was revelry of the obnoxious kind. 

APD heading toward N Amherst bus stop for throng of students acting up

APD swoops in to suggest students get off the roof of former Watroba's

In all, Amherst Police made 38 arrests!  All but two for rowdy activity fueled by alcohol:  13 for noise  at numerous party houses, 13 for open container or underage drinking, 7 for "disorderly conduct" and one for DUI.

First up, the Bad Boys at  62 Summer Street -- all six of them!  

Arrested for noise violations Saturday night around 11:00 PM:

220 North East St, Amherst

Next up, and about an hour later  (midnight Saturday) but in another part of town, 220 North East Street:
owned, naturally, by an LLC


Late Friday night into early Saturday morning Towne House Apartments --  #87 in particular -- was once again the scene of a large enough party to attract a police response. And four arrests:
Alpha Tau Gamma, 118 Sunset Avenue
And of course what would a rowdy weekend be without some assist from a Frat: Alpha Tau Gamma, where an outdoor party was warned by APD Saturday at 1:00 PM and again at 5:00 PM.   Still, in the early morning hours of Sunday, one overly combative Jacob Scott Dennis, 15 Aztec Way, Sharon, MA, age 22, was arrested for Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and Simple Assault. 

The Hobart Hoedown failed to materialize (stationing a cruiser at the entrance to the complex helps) but an altercation did occur at 51 Hobart Lane 2:30 AM Sunday morning with police arresting perps for Disorderly Conduct:

Dominick M Ferrante, 88 Old Greenfield Road, Shelburne Falls, MA, age 21 and Tyson Dowdy, 4 Chapman, Greenfield, Ma, age 23

Once again a ubiquitous police presence -- UMPD, APD and State PD -- managed to keep a lid on any major disturbances, although if you are a neighbor to any of these cited party locations, not much consolation.

State Police K9 unit responds to disturbance near Old Towne Tavern

Mullins Center Command

 Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave ...

Once again local fire departments successfully came together in mutual aid to work as a team, only this time fire or carnage of any kind was not involved.

Using Ladder 1 from AFD, a really big flag from NFD  and a lot of coordination from UMass Campus Safety and Fire Prevention Department, Old Glory was proudly raised high above the Mullins Center for the fantastic benefit show, Ice Stars for Wounded Warriors, held this past weekend.

Giving good reason for crowds to cheer -- even before getting into the venue.

Photos courtesy Ed Mientka

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Titans Times Two

Stan Ziomek "Mr. Baseball"

One ran the Amherst DPW for 40 years, where he worked with less than pleasant materials daily, where multi-million dollar projects going right could be offset by a nickel-and-dime pothole repair going wrong;  while the other ran Amherst Town Meeting for 19 years, where bread-and-butter local issues can take a back seat to national and international affairs.

And everyone wants to have their say, about everything.

Amherst went all out in town center for Stan Ziomek Day

Saturday was "Stan Ziomek Day" here in Amherst, and the gorgeous spring day culminated in a gala reception in his honor at the glamorous Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Hadley.  The hall was packed with town and UMass officials, sports enthusiasts and just plain salt of the earth folks.  

Harrison Gregg, keeping control

My tenure in Town Meeting spanned about three quarters of Harrison Gregg's time as moderator.  And while I never saw him as "the enemy" the competitor in me viewed him as an obstacle to overcome.  So we kind of went at it like Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.  I of course was the confederate.

But I never thought he was willfully unfair or capable of anything underhanded.  His love for the institution of Town Meeting could match General Grant or President Lincoln's love for the Union.

And THAT, I always find worthy of salute.

The Morning After ...

166 College Street, Amherst

166 College Street, parking

263 College Street, Amherst

26 Allen Street, Amherst

45 Phillips Street, Amherst

27/29 Phillips Street, Amherst

19/21 Hobart Lane, Amherst

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jesse James Rides Again

The only thing worse than a starving artist is a crispy dead artist.

Today the Gazette picks up and runs with a story I broke over three weeks ago about an underground music venue in an old time traditional middle class neighborhood in South Amherst.  The above-the-fold article is a cross between what traditional journalists would brand a "puff piece" and flat out girlish romanticism.

Because at no point does the lengthy article consider the major public safety concern about these pack them in underground late night commercial ventures:  fire safety.  In the past year Amherst has had two basement fires in student rental properties that violate zoning law with overcrowded illegal bedrooms.

Either of them could have been a tragic replay of February 17, 1991. 

And these non profit commercial ventures, which can pack up to 250 people in a low ceiling basement designed for nothing but storage, could easily become a tragic replay of the Station Nightclub fire February 20, 2003.

Consider this quote from the Gazette:  "It was a lot of fun.  A packed, sweaty basement where it's hard to move around makes for the best shows."  That's what they thought in Brazil, until ...

Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- last night around 11:00 PM Amherst Police cited for noise violations due to a band one of the houses mentioned in the lead paragraph:  Babetown.  Yes you would think a hip, young successful female reporter would you know, comment on that, but hey it's the Gazette.

And these particular bad boys are repeat offenders.  Twice last month they were warned for noise, not to mention the tickets from last year.

621 East Pleasant Street, Amherst:  BABETOWN Yeah the band can park on the lawn

A few weeks ago the boys at Dad City held a fundraiser concert at UMass to help cover the $1,800 in fines slapped on them by the Amherst Police.  Which kind of underscores the solution to this "problem" of not having a place to stage these hip, underground concerts.

Or could it be that half the allure is simply that they are "underground"?

And why would a commercial above-ground business like Iron Horse want to open in Amherst if they have to compete with these undergound operations that charge little or nothing?

Kind of hard to compete with free, especially when your overhead costs for insurance, rent, advertising and the occasional inspection from Amherst Fire Department needs to be covered.  Kind of like why print newspapers are on death row: they can't compete with free social media, blogs, and all-digital hyper-local news websites.

Rather than encouraging irresponsible behavior the Gazette needs to remember a simple journo prime directive, borrowed from the Hippocratic oath:  Above all else, do no harm. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Our Small Town Hero Is Gone

Stan Durnakowski in town center holding Ground Zero flag on 10th anniversary of 9/11

Stanley Durnakowski, proud father, husband, army veteran, Polish farmer, and long-time Amherst College employee died yesterday at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, where he was spending way to much time over the past few years, reporting for dialysis three times per week.

Over the course of my lifetime I have met many a person caught up in worthy causes who exhibited unflinching determination to meet a goal, but none that could compare with Stan The Man.

Thirteen years ago, with nothing but a clipboard, pens, folding table and a limitless yearning to make a difference, Stan Durnakowki singlehandedly shook the very foundation of Amherst town government.

Proving the pen is mightier than the sword, Stan collected 2,512 voter signatures required to force a ballot question on retiring our antiquated Town Meeting/Select Board government.

Mr. Durnakowski was then elected to the 9-member Charter Commission and deliberated for almost two years to come up with a professional Mayor/Council replacement government, except -- against Mr. Durnakowski's strong wishes -- the Mayor was more ceremonial with a town manager retained.

In 2003 the revolutionary binding ballot question stimulated an unusually high turnout -- at least for a local election -- of 30.8 %, and lost by less than 1%, only 14 votes.

Undeterred Stan went back out over the next two years and once again collected the signatures required to bring back the question for a second bite of the apple. In 2005 it failed by 214 votes.

But the close brush with death brought about a change in attitude of Amherst town officials. The Select Board has become far more normalized, almost to the point of boring, and Town Meeting has actually become more efficient, although still dominated by diehards who block progress at every turn.

Thanks Stan. If Heaven is is not to your liking, start a petition.

If anyone can keep God on his toes, you can.

Parity At The Top (sort of)

 Maria Geryk center, John Musante left

The race between the town's two highly prized thoroughbred greyhounds for Best In Show employment contract continues, although now there will be a five-year lull.  

Actually six years, since the School Superintendent's is good for five but if the Regional School Committee does nothing in the fifth year it automatically continues for one addition year.

And our Regional School Committee is nothing if not "do nothing."

Not really a photo finish since School Superintendent Maria Geryk wins by a length, with a salary of $147,000 vs Town Manager John Musante's $142,100. Although in solidarity with a tough budget year Ms. Geryk decided to forgo any raise of cost of living adjustment in the coming year. 

Ms Geryk's salary is only about 10% higher than the runner-up employee in the schools, ARHS Principal Mark Jackson at $135,000.  While Mr. Musante is more like 45% higher than #2, Assistant Town Manger David Ziomek at $97,904.

If the committees who make these contract decisions (Select Board for Town Manager, Regional School Committee for Superintendent) really wanted to make the top dog responsive to the consumers who fund these high paying jobs, perhaps they should come up with a matching fund strategy:

Half the annual salary is guaranteed and the other half has to be raised by private donations, presumably by satisfied consumers.  Set up an indiegogo program, or put a Paypal donation widget on the town and school's website.  

Heck, I would give them a couple bucks.  Maybe. 


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Retreat Moves Forward

 Can Salamanders read?

The i's have been dotted and the t's crossed (in triplicate) as the town on Wednesday received both by certified mail and delivery in hand the official notice of intent to remove property in northeast Amherst from Chapter 61 conservation for the whopping sale price of $6.5 million.

Yes THAT property off Henry Street -- the one that has aroused the fires of indignation from nearby residents in the historic village of Cushman and a few more from all over Amherst and a surrounding town or two.

The town of Amherst, upon receipt of the documents, has two deadlines:  30 days to question the notification process as flawed, and then another 90 days (assuming the paperwork is in order) to decide if they wish to invoke the "right of first refusal", or pass it on to another non profit land trust.

Either way, an intercepting entity would need to match the current offer of $6.5 million.  Yes, dollars.

Kind of like the epic blunder the town made 25 years ago taking by eminent domain the Cherry Hill Golf Course in North Amherst, costing taxpayers $2.2 million.  The largest land "purchase" in town history, and to the best of my knowledge the last time the town has wielded the potent power of eminent domain.  What some might refer to as "the nuclear option."

Adjusting for inflation the cost of Cherry Hill today would be $4.4 million, still a far cry from the $6.5 million cost of taking the 154 acres of woodland currently owned by the largest private landlowner in Massachusetts, W.D. Cowls, Inc.

And that of course does not include the legal bills resulting from a crossfire of attorneys from two major corporations.

This is one battle the town doesn't need:  sound the retreat!

Measuring The Damage

Alan Snow, Division Director Tree and Grounds for the town of Amherst, measures off the damage from last weekend's "Extravaganja" that attracted 6,000 pairs of feet to the town common.  

Mr. Snow confirms that our "loved to death" common will be reseeded after the town's "4th Annual Sustainability Festival" this Saturday.

A Most Deserving Honor

Stan Ziomek at the grand reopening of War Memorial Pool last summer

If institutional memory is worth its weight in gold then Stan Ziomek, with 89 years and counting under his belt, represents the motherlode.

Over 40 years as DPW Chief, one of the town's more hands on management positions, and sixty seasons of service to Amherst youth baseball, a program he founded, it would be hard to find someone who has shown more dedication to public service than Stan Ziomek.  Ever.

And the history of this town he loves so much stretches back a l-o-n-g way.

In addition to a scoreboard and playing field named in his honor, and being named Grand Marshall at the town's 250th Parade a few years back, the illustrious Select Board has designated this Saturday "Stan Ziomek Day" the only time in my institutional memory that such an honor has been bestowed.

In conjunction with that special day a banquet at the prestigious Marriott Courtyard hotel in Hadley -- "An evening to honor Stan Ziomek" -- will be held this Saturday at 6:00 PM.  Tickets are $75 and seating is limited.  Contact Tony Maroulis at the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce ASAP and tell him Larry (a former Little Leaguer) sent you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Amherst Pharmacy Robbery #2

APD Shift Supervisor on scene Amherst Pharmacy 6:00 PM

UPDATE:  They got him!  Great job APD!

APD reports

Original Post Wednesday late afternoon

The second pharmacy robbery this week (CVS in town center was hit Monday) was called in a little after 5:00 PM this afternoon. This time Amherst Pharmacy on College Street was the victim.

Amherst police are now searching (with a K9 provided by Orange PD) for a white male, wearing light blue jeans, purple sweatshirt, brown sneakers possible associated with a Subaru station wagon with Vermont license plate.

No weapon was used in either robbery and in both cases a note was passed to a sales clerk.

Perp who hit CVS on Monday

Badly Needed Competition

 356 College St.  From Pizza to Pizza

The number one reason Amherst has such a high property tax rate (well, besides the gold plated schools) is simple math:  half of all the property in town is owned by tax exempts and the other half is disproportionally make up of homeowners and rental units which shoulder 90% of the tax burden.

Commercial property makes up a desultory 10%.

So it's always sad to see commercial property become residential such as the old Watroba's General Store in North Amherst Center.  Which to be fair, happened a long time ago, well before the recent purchase by Jamie Cherewatti.

Watroba's General Store circa 1960s

But I find it telling that this 100 yard swap is taking place in East Amherst where Pioneer Valley Pizza is moving from 20 Belchertown Road, to 356 College Street.  Sure, maybe it's that they need less space than their previous 1,350 square feet spot, or maybe they got a better deal on rent.

10 Belchertown Road, former location Pioneer Valley Pizza

Or maybe it's because the building itself is in much better repair.

Yes it's the oldest saying in the evil book of capitalism: "When products compete they get better".  And what Amherst desperately needs is competition in the student rental business.  Because now, with such huge demand and a strangled limited supply, the competition is at best token.

If developments like The Gateway, now dead, or The Retreat, now under attack, were allowed to happen off-campus students would flock to them like swallows to Capistrano.   The Mom-and-Pop operations that do a despicable lousy job of upkeep would have to step up their game to compete, or sell out to a more responsible investors. 

Either way, increasing the supply of safe, quality and affordable housing is the answer.  And we need it now

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sunderland Barn Fire

AFD Engine 1 joined brethren fire departments from Hadley, South Deerfield and Montague assisting Sunderland FD put down a barn fire late this afternoon.  The barn was a total loss, but fortunately no injuries resulted.

 AFD Engine 1 on scene

South Deerfield FD Ladder truck