Wednesday, July 31, 2013

If You Build It?

Revive the Gateway Project

Actually they are already coming (2,000 over the next seven years) so the need for additional student housing is a given.

Two years ago UMass was willing to donate a prime swath of lush lawn for a mixed use development that would help solve two imbalances in our little college town:  taxable housing for our #1 demographic and commercial space for goods and services -- all within walking distance of the heart of the campus or downtown Amherst. 

The Gateway Project died because public officials failed to show resolve in the face of adversity:  NIMBYs with sharpened pitchforks and flamethrowers.

Now after the tumult created by "The Retreat," it's time to take a second look at The Gateway, and this time GET IT DONE.

According to a recent Op/Ed column in the Amherst Bulletin, UMass Chancellor Subbaswamy states "The university is committed to exploring the feasibility of a legislative remedy that would allow us to pursue public-private partnerships to address our housing needs."  Bingo!

What the Chancellor is referring to is a work around of the 1993 "Pacheco Rule" that protects public services from being privatized (no wonder then Governor Weld tried to veto it):

A "Special Act" exempting Amherst and UMass from the rule -- but only in a case of public/private partnership to construct new student housing on campus property.  The former Frat Row for instance.

 Former Frat Row, ready to go!

This "Home Rule Petition" is just what the Chancellor ordered, and would fall into the hands of able state legislators Stan Rosenberg -- a shoe in for the next Senate President -- and Ellen Story.

Two recent influential housing studies indicated the clear and desperate need for student housing, starting with the simple fact that 59% of our population are "college aged".

And until that problem is solved all other aspects of housing concerning families, retirees, low-and- moderate income, or the homeless will never be solved.

If the "rising star" Housing & Sheltering Committee really wants to make the difference, they need to prepare a warrant article for Town Meeting initiating this Special Act process.  Now!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Rightful Place

Amherst Town Flag at Statehouse Hall Of Flags

After three long years of design process Amherst, finally, has an official town flag in the Statehouse Hall of Flags.  Big enough so that it requires three Select Board members, the Town Manager, State Representative Ellen Story and State Senator Stan Rosenberg to hold up.  Salute!

DUI Dishonor Roll

70% of 2011 fatal drunk driving incidents involved hardcore drunk drivers 

Well I guess it did not take long to make up for last week's lull, when we only had one DUI arrest.  This past week APD took four drunk drivers off the road, three of them UMass students (all males).

Ryan Micheal Holmes, age 23; Robert J Carroll, age 21, Patrick O Oyede, age 24 and our lone non-student female, Kathryn M. Denny, age 54.


Many Bridges To Cross

Toppled Jersey barrier on Mill Street Bridge

Vandals -- rather strong ones -- managed to tip over this road block on one side of the Mill Street Bridge which has been closed for over a year now due to unsafe structural support.  I say strong because a Jersey barrier weighs a couple tons.    

 Barrier on southern end was undisturbed (maybe they were too tired)

According to DPW Chief Guilford Mooring town officials are "putting some options together and then there will be public discussion" about the future of the bridge.   

But the more time that passes the more likely it will stay closed forever, like the Woodside Avenue Bridge over the bike path that was totally replaced 13 years ago and then never allowed (by Select Board vote) to reopen to vehicular traffic.

Woodside Avenue bridge:  The bridge to nowhere

The Mill Street bridge is strategically located between State and Summer Streets and is perfectly parallel to the Puffer's Pond waterfall.

Puffer's Pond:  popular summer destination spot

Monday, July 29, 2013

Select Board Just Said NO


The Amherst Select Board voted unanimously 4-0 (1 absent) NOT to a invoke a $6.5 million "Right Of First Refusal" for 154 acres of run-of-the-mill woodland in northeast Amherst to stop "The Retreat", a controversial 700 bed upscale student housing development proposed by a private, taxpaying, enterprise.
In June Amherst Town Meeting voted 98-90 to dismiss a warrant article calling for a $1.2 million appropriation to take by eminent domain only the "development rights" of the parcel.  And over the past two weeks the Planning Board voted 8-1 against the purchase while the Conservation Commission opposition was unanimous.

Crowd of 80-85 pack the meeting

The Select Board meeting was one of the best attended in recent memory with over a dozen project opponents voicing their concerns about noise, traffic, vandalism, and -- what they greatly fear --  the destruction of Cushman, a quaint historic village.

Speakers questioned the transparency of process since the town took a long period of time to acknowledge the 2nd $6.5 million offer between Cowls and Landmark Properties was indeed "bona fide", which started the 120-day clock ticking for the Right Of First Refusal.   

Project proponents have repeatedly cited the desperate need in this "college town" for more student housing, with current make shift solutions -- the conversion of single family homes to rooming houses -- being far more destructive to quality of life in neighborhoods town wide.

John Musante (center) Any change in contract would bring on new 120 day Right of 1st Refusal

"The Retreat" would also generate $400,000 per year in property taxes in a town where half the property is tax exempt.  In 1987 the town took by eminent domain the Cherry Hill Golf Course to stop a 134 unit high end housing project, squandering a historic $2.2 million ($4.4 million in today's dollars).

 Cowls also owns 150 acres near Cherry Hill Golf Course (in gold) that could also be developed on the same scale as The Retreat

Tonight by NOT taking this exceedingly expensive 154 acres of woodland, town officials demonstrated they have learned from history.   Finally. 

Amherst Being Amherst

Noon protest @ TD Bank, Amherst town center:  Pipelines, climate change, the usual

Fast Track Slowed

 Regional School District Planning Board  June 15

One of the stories that will get lost in the wake of the contentious Select Board decision tonight not to squander $6.5 million tax dollars for an "unremarkable" forest is the (formerly) head long rush to regionalize our pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade with partners Leverett and Pelham will now be delayed for a full year.

We of course already have a 50+ year old Region at the 7th through 12th grade level with Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury, so the mission creep to the lower grades is seen as a natural way to standardize education throughout the entire system.

But Shutesbury upset the apple cart by withdrawing from the about-to-be-proposed Region, although representative Michael DeChiara continues to attend and participate in meetings of the Regional School District Planning Board. 

One of the problems to overcome is the lopsided make up of the proposed Region -- at least as far as governance is concerned.  Even if all four towns agree to rationalize the way they do now for Middle and High School, Amherst still makes up 88% of the region for population.

Currently the Regional School Committee is governed by 9 members: five from Amherst, 2 from Pelham and one each from Leverett and Shutesbury.  Thus Amherst has 55% of the voting power to represent 88% of the people, and little old Pelham has 22% of the voting power while representing only 3% of the population. 

Daniel Shays would be so proud.

The problem (worth fighting over) is the RSDPB doesn't seem concerned about rectifying a balance of power that significantly shortchanges Amherst.

6/24 update to Amherst Select Board:  "Ugh!"

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Car vs Bus Stop

East Pleasant Street PVTA bus stop torpedoed by car around noon today

Three weeks from now this minor accident could be a major catastrophe as the bus stop (almost in front of The Sub & Pizza, 33 East Pleasant Street) would be relatively packed with people -- especially since it is on a direct route to UMass/Amherst, our number one everything.

An elderly woman had a (bad) reaction to taking medication on an empty stomach and lost control of her car while driving north towards UMass.  An ambulance was called, but she refused transport.  

Only an hour later PVTA bus picked up a couple customers

Bike seems to have been there a whileTown owns bike racks and will replace them. PVTA owns shelter

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fire & Brimstone

The vitriol over stopping the "The Retreat," a housing development targeting Amherst's #1 demographic who patronize our #1 industry, is reaching a fever pitch. NIMBYs are starting to get a tad, err, twitchy.

As usual, the call has gone out to pack the Select Board public meeting Monday night to try to intimidate them into spending $6.5 million tax dollars to "protect" a quaint neighborhood.  
After all, somewhere in an alternate universe "The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many." 
Let's hope they leave the torches and pitchforks (or phasers) at home.
From: llan starkweather 
Sent: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:58 PM
Subject: Fwd: Reality of the Cushman Retreat

To the GALACTIC LOG mailing list, 

On July 21st I sent my umpteenth not to be printed letter to the editor
of the Amherst Bulletin, Reality of the Cushman Retreat, enmeshed below.
It was not printed, as most of mine the last decade have been rejected
as threatening to the media establishment that controls the Valley, so I
responded this morning with the long piece also below starting with
To the local so-called Editors of the Illuminati controlled dark media
cabal, the last obstacle to true reality for valleykind:

The immediate reply from the news department was

On Jul 26, 2013, at 10:46 AM, DHG News Dept. wrote:
 Llan Starkweather: 
 If you send another vaguely threatening email (to wit, You have a short time
left to understand what your soul's mission was) I will notify the police. 

Larry Parnass 
 I could not help but respond in this fashion:

From: llan starkweather <>

Date: July 26, 2013 2:26:06 PM EDT

To: "DHG News Dept." 

Subject: Reality of the Cushman Retreat

You have a short time before god puts you out of your nasty lying business
in allegiance with evil against humanity. Your soul's mission is your
mismanaged affair and it is more than vaguely threatened. What a poor
substitute for a being of any good will you are, little soul-shrunk Parnass.
How many lines of god's truth did you read before you started shaking your
fists at any attempt to awaken in you your real purpose in incarnation. 
I am done with you, but like Zimmerman, god isn't. And that doesn't change the
fact that you have been intentionally using your elite power to fuck me over
for a decade and would 'notify the police' for my rocking your cradle of the
dark hegemonic forces' dominant protection. Or that this valley has for very
long been denied truth and reality out of the fear in those who have usurped
all power-over through control of the fucking media. I speak for those who
cannot, or do not even know they are targeted and are being disposed of as
useless eaters by the hegemony that is now currently and finally being
revealed and dis-mantled. 
You are a loving god too. Know that. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Stream Runs Through It

 Intermittent stream at bottom of steep hill

The Amherst Conservation Commission (town) hit the Massachusetts Department Of Transportation (state) with an "Enforcement Order" demanding they quickly rectify sloppy mitigation measures designed to protect an "intermittent stream" -- i.e. wetland -- at the South Amherst Rt116 construction site otherwise known as "The Notch."

Ignoring such an order can result in a fine of up to $25,000 per day and/or two years in jail.

Wall of protective hay bales now installed just above the stream

According to Beth Willson, Wetlands Administrator:  "MassDOT has responded to the Enforcement Order by installing matting on all the slopes, constructing paved swales and opening up drainage inlets so the water can drain appropriately from the site."

Into The Drink

Undergrowth slowed vehicle's approach to water

Around 10:15 PM Tuesday night 911 Dispatch received a cell phone call from an anxious driver who reported having gone off Station Road into a stream (Hop Brook).  Ominously, his car was quickly taking on water.

Both AFD and APD  responded swiftly:  the driver was safely rescued, and transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

The weather was hospitable and the road at that point is fairly straight (although the bridge is narrow) so naturally I thought alcohol may have played a role.   Apparently it did not.  Although the driver was cited for speed. 

At the scene of an accident the medical needs of a driver always take precedence.  An officer can't very well perform a Field Sobriety Test on an injured driver.  If alcohol is suspected to have contributed to the crash, APD can charge the driver with DUI and then subpoena the medical records.

Of course if the driver dies, authorities automatically screen for drugs or alcohol and usually release that as public information. 

Alcohol is involved in a little over one-third of Massachusetts road fatalities.  This incident could easily have represented the other side of that equation.

Conservation Department measuring device only a few yards from where the car entered Hop Brook (depth = 3.3 feet)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Built Chevy Tough, No More

An American icon

About 75 people showed up this morning to attend the Classic Chevy, aka Paige's Chevrolet auction at their historic 40 Dickinson Street location, within hubcap toss of the Dickinson Homestead.

Almost all of them were men dressed in work clothes, similar no doubt to the uniforms once worn by the 17 dedicated employees who are now out of a job.

Crowd gathers round the auctioneer at former Classic Chevrolet

Amherst has lost its last auto dealership and it's unlikely to see another one anytime soon.  Just as a supermarket or hardware store will never reappear in the downtown.

Or a phone booth.

Flying Super Extra Gas pump 1960s:  When Paige's was in its prime

Parts of the Trade

How to for professionals (before the Internet)

Hills Hat Factory molds, circa 1850s stored in the attic

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Con Com: Conserve $6.5 Million

Amherst Conservation Commission

The Amherst Conservation Commission hiked down the same path as the Planning Board did last week by voting unanimously NOT to recommend the Amherst Select Board exercise Right Of First Refusal on 154 acres of upland woodland in northeast Amherst.

The property, owned by the state's largest private landowner W.D. Cowls, Inc, is currently under a $6.5 million contract to Georgia developer Landmark Properties, who specialize in cottage style student housing with high end amenities.   

The gated community planned for Amherst, The Retreat, will house 700 students and it has stirred bitter neighborhood opposition since day one.

About two dozen residents showed up last week to the Planning Board hearing hoping to convince the board to recommend the town invoke the expensive taking.  Tonight 21 concerned citizens showed up and the committee allowed an hour for public comment.

 Dave Ziomek, Director of Conservation and Development (and Assistant Town Manager):  "Daunting price tag for an unremarkable property."

Then, after a brief 25 minute discussion the board came to its unanimous recommendation NOT to purchase the property, but were also clear about not supporting the proposed development because of potential environmental impacts.

The Select Board has the final authority and will make their decision Monday night (July 29).  The funding would also require a two-thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting who already overwhelmingly voted down a scheme to take the "development rights" of the property for $1.2 million.

The chance the SB will ignore the unanimous advice of the Planning Board and Conservation Committee is about as likely as an asteroid taking out town center one of these hot summer nights.

Rising Star Committee

Housing & Sheltering Committee (and liaisons) this morning

This being Amherst, naturally I have to fall back on a Native American sounding designation title award for a relatively new committee with a very PC sounding official name:  The Housing and Sheltering Committee.

The committee was born out of a merger between the Housing Partnership/Fair Housing Committee and The Committee on Homelessness, but only after the Select Board dissolved the two former committees.  So I guess you could describe them as a Phoenix who arose from the ashes.

For a committee that only first met on May 30, 2012 they have made great strides towards becoming a political powerhouse.  At this morning's meeting Select Board liaison Alisa Brewer stated in her usual succinct manner:  "Planning Board members and Planning staff irritate some people.  You come from a purer place ... your opinion matters."

And Planning Board liaison Connie Kruger (also former Amherst Senior Planner for 16 years) told the board it would be "political suicide not to include this committee in on zoning issues."

As a further example of the consolidation of political capital, HSC co-chair Greg Stutsman was recently appointed to the always influential Planning Board.  If not for the fact both these boards are volunteer activities the state would probably disallow that as double dipping or a conflict of interest.

The HSC can take credit for one of the more influential consultant reports issued in the past 30 or 40 years, the "Housing Production Plan."

This report graphically illustrates the problems created when supply and demand are out of whack.  And of course the largest creator of supply is the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a town where 59% of the population are now "college aged youths."

The committee is considering ways of increasing housing supply through zoning changes, as well as possibly forming a land or housing trust to develop projects on their own.  And with the highly regarded reputation they have established in just over a year, it could happen.

Amherst is now teetering on the brink of falling below the 10% affordable housing threshold thus opening the town up to a Chapter 40B mega housing project.   Zoning changes to help increase the supply of affordable housing requires a difficult to attain two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.

The Housing & Sheltering Committee will certainly help lead the charge.  And they stand an infinitely better chance than did "The Light Brigade."

Art & Eats

Metacomet Cafe 27 South Pleasant Street, Amherst

Two new bricks and mortar businesses will open in the heart of the downtown in time to tap into that tidal way of new customers who roar back into Amherst the last week of August.

Metacomet Cafe will open in the spot formerly occupied by Chez Albert before they moved to the other side of town; and Art Alive, an arts and crafts emporium that encourages consumer participation, has taken over the space former occupied by 35 South Cycle, a fitness business that expired last August. 

Art Alive, 35 South Pleasant Street, Amherst

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Curtain No More

Marsh House last week

Marsh House this morning

War on Rowdyism: The Tide Is Turning

 Graph courtesy of APD

With overall citations up 30% over last year it may seem counter intuitive to declare the problem of rampaging college aged youth is getting better ... but it is.

Note, for instance,  the decrease in arrests for "noise" vs citations issued this year vs last.  But an increase in "nuisance" tickets, a slighter higher level of response/sanction to a party.

A cop in the field has a fair amount of latitude in deciding to arrest (cuff hands behind back, throw -- err, gently place -- in the back of a cruiser and bring to the station for booking) or simply issue a $300 ticket.

If the perps are cooperative they only get a warning, or civil infraction ticket; if not they get arrested.

Word has gotten out about noise/nuisance bylaw enforcement, and the kids are starting to get the message.

According to UMPD Chief John Horvath:

"UMPD dedicated more officers to supporting APD with off campus issues in spring 2013.  The two departments have worked together for a long time and there are good relationships built, while new ones are forming.  It is my intention to continue to work with APD, Chief Livingstone and the Amherst & Hadley communities to support them when needed, while respecting the jurisdictional boundaries that are established."

UMPD Mounted Patrol stationed on Phillips Street April 5th 

I also asked APD Chief Scott Livingstone if this past spring seemed better controled than last spring because of a united crackdown:  

" We know that the weekends have been quieter than past years, because of enforcement, assistance from UMPD and MSP, and the cooler weather…I also think the continued messaging from Enku Gelaye's office helped as well." 

This spring UMass officials issued stern messages to students and their parents warning about the consequences of bad behavior.  They also instituted "Walk This Way", where a legion of volunteers set up at high traffic areas during the late night to redirect revelers away from residential neighborhoods. 

Amherst Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe in the dead of night mid-April

Chief Livingstone agrees enforcement is working, but it also comes at a high cost: 

"We can put an end to much of the bad behavior with enforcement, but not all the bad behavior. Problem is, it cost a lot of money in overtime  cost, and my cops get tired and burned out, and that worries me…Tired cops and stressful situations are a bad combination…" 

According to a prominent longtime local landlord (whose property once made my "Party House of the Weekend") this past spring was "as under control as any I can recall."

Yes, of course the "Blarney Blowout" stands as a notable exception.  But perhaps -- coming in the early spring -- it acted as a wake up call, setting off a "we're-not-going-to-take-this-anymore" response.

A kind of high water mark for rowdy behavior that, like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, represents a dramatic example of a turning point ... the beginning of the end.

Monday, July 22, 2013

DUI Dishonor Roll

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

Since Omar Cruz, age 21, was taken off the road early Saturday at 3:29 AM -- a time when most of us are safely sleeping in bed -- and he was the only drunk driver bagged by APD this past weekend, I suppose we locals should feel somewhat relieved. 

Although I much prefer the July 4th weekend -- number one nationwide for DUI arrests -- where not a single tipsy perp was to be had within the confines of Amherst.

May be quite a while before we see a repeat of that good thing.