Town Gown Steering CommitteeThe second meeting of the UMass Amherst Town Gown Steering Committee, a dream team of top UMass and town officials charged with preparing a Request For Proposals to hire a town/gown consultant, got a tad testy this evening over the issue of public safety.
The "discussion outline" had four main bullet points for the proposed consultant to consider: Housing, Economic Development, Transportation and Public Safety.
But some were concerned it was an unreasonable amount to ask of a consultant on a $60,000 budget proposal and a tight timeline for completion. So a little condensing was in order.
Amherst police Chief Scott Livingstone did not take kindly to Andy Churchill declaring, "Housing and Economic Development -- especially private taxable housing -- are most important."
To which Chief Livingstone replied, "I don't know if there is anything more important than public safety. I don’t want to see it completely dissed. I was biting my tongue in the first meeting. We can’t just ignore it. It needs to be included in some form."
Demonstrating the seamless cooperation between their public safety departments of late, UMPD Chief John Horvath jumped in with backup: "I support Scott. I don’t want public safety dissed either. Quality of life is not necessarily criminal activity."
Chief Horvath went on to explain one of the major complaints he hears from impacted neighborhoods are problems of noise, unkempt conditions, and increased traffic -- nothing necessarily "criminal," but they have a pervasive negative impact on everyday citizens.
Meeting was held at UMPD headquarters community room
Amherst Finance Director Sandy Pooler agreed: "Public safety is a key ingredient of town/gown relations. Building more housing may be the way to improve quality of life. That is a solution to a problem, not an end in itself. "
Former town planner, now UMass planner, Niels la Cour stuck a conciliatory note saying public safety is "implicit" in any proposed housing projects. Dave Ziomek used an even better term: "permeates".
The next key item on the short list now narrowed down to two, "Economic Development", also briefly generated sparks when Dennis Swinford, UMass Director of Planning suggested UMass has "excess capacity" during the summer, so tourism promotions could be a common goal.
To which Amherst Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe quickly shot back: "Economic development is from the town side. UMass is untaxed. We are looking for Research & Development spinoffs off campus."
During the Public Comment period. at the end of the hour and forty five minute meeting, Walter Wolnik reminded the committee of the importance of modifying the "Pacheco Law" so the University could work with private developers to build student housing that would generate tax revenues to the town.