Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Public Safety Is Paramount

 Town Gown Steering Committee 
The 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.  


Anonymous said...

Ah, Niels la Cour. Now if there's anyone in Amherst to put out a fire, it's him.

A point of order, however. Since when did public officials, supposedly an elevated class, start using "dissed" so casually, as if they were talking to their drinking buddies? And I don't mean to diss the Chief, either, I'm just concerned that the students' pervasive diction is corrupting our officers.

Anonymous said...

Instead of arguing over a consultant's report that will be ignored, why doesn't the commitee take on the issues and work them out? They are the major players. Don't waste the chance.

Dr. Ed said...

nothing necessarily "criminal," but they have a pervasive negative impact on everyday citizens

If anyone ever wanted to know why "the middle is ceasing to hold" and why relations between those Amherst residents who are UMass students and those who aren't have deteriorated so badly, it's all there in that one sentence. Remember too that there is something known as a "social contract" -- that people "give" to a society because they also "get" from it.

The police apparently are no longer interested in "enforcing the criminal code of the Commonwealth" -- they instead are interested in helping a minority of the society oppress the majority.

In South Africa they called that "Apartied", in Amherst it is called "Town-Gown Relations."

Welcome to UMass....

Anonymous said...

Why is he reminding the committee about changing the Pacheco Law? They aren't the state legislature.

Anonymous said...

Don't Feed The Animals

Dr Ed said...

Don't Feed The Animals

Thank You!

I'm going to use that in something I am writing -- something I have been struggling with because I wasn't quite sure how to frame the issue.
Now I do, and I will use this.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Q. Why is he reminding the committee about changing the Pacheco Law? They aren't the state legislature.

A. Paraphrasing what I said to the committee:

Many years ago, the Town's Comprehensive Planning Committee's Economic Development Work Group heard former Town Manager Larry Shaffer present a concept he'd had conversations with the University about -- the notion of a mixed-use development on what are (still now) parking lots along University Drive north of the Stadium, development which would include student residences, a multimodal transportation center, and commercial venues providing student nighttime entertainment. 

Shaffer characterized this concept as a win/win/win: the University would get student housing, the developer would make money, and the Town would receive tax revenue (from the developer, I suppose).

In the context of overcoming constraints imposed by the Pacheco Rule (either through an Amherst Home Rule petition. or directly through having our legislators sponsor a Special Act) and garnering University and community support, I think it's important to be in a position to answer skepticism about just how  a public-private partnership intermediary allows activity on tax-exempt property to become subject to municipal taxation.

Walter Wolnik

Anonymous said...

The letter below appears in today's Bulletin.

Walter Wolnik


Amherst needs added housing on UMass land


Thursday, November 14, 2013

It’s time for a community forum to discuss the essential need to find a way for the University of Massachusetts Amherst to build more student housing on its own land or to legally participate in public-private partnerships to accomplish the same end.
Every aspect of the town of Amherst’s housing crisis, as most recently articulated by Jim Alden in a Gazette commentary, would immediately benefit from finding a way to house more of the university’s students on its campus.
A successful effort in this venue would benefit all aspects of our housing concerns.
It would:
• Reduce the demand for rentals in campus neighborhoods.

• Allow the “real estate market” to adjust to the reality of more normal demands.
• Aid in the the town’s efforts to provide low- and middle-income housing and rentals for families.
• Diminish the multiple problems associated with the conversion of private homes to student rentals.
• Help students by immersing them more closely in the living and learning environment of campus life.
• Help to preserve Amherst’s quality of life.
Unfortunately this is not a problem that the best efforts of town government can solve alone. Nor is it a problem that can be addressed effectively by the recently formed town/ gown consulting group, which to my knowledge has no state government nor community neighborhood representation other than abutters.
A solution requires the presence, around a table, in a transparent and open public forum, of the town manager, the university’s provost, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, state Rep. Ellen Story, representatives of Amherst’s Housing Authority and recognized citizens groups representing neighborhoods.
The focus of the forum should be on identifying obstacles to building more on-site university student housing and the steps needed to thoughtfully and legally eliminate those obstacles.
Despite good intentions and significant efforts there will be no solution to Amherst’s housing crisis which does not adversely affect the quality of life in our community until the university can provide more on-campus housing.
This fact is a given, too frequently ignored.
It is the elephant in the room.
Ira S. Addes lives in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

privatize EMS problem solved for a fraction of the prize.