Friday, May 30, 2014

Atkins North It Is!

Coming soon to a former cow barn near you:  Atkins Farms Country Market

After years of negotiations, and rumors, and a recent Internet petition that garnered over 350 signatures, the dream of bringing an iconic century old Amherst business anchored in the deep south part of town has now come true:

 Atkins Farms Country Market will open a 4,000 square foot bookend operation in the North Amherst Mill District -- twice as big as the Internet petition proposed operation would have been in the Trolley Barn.

Pauline Lannon (left) Cinda Jones (right) ink the deal

Atkins will be occupying the former cow barn (after extensive renovations of course) at 113 Cowls Road, and is expected to open in August of 2015. 

The store will certainly act as an anchor magnet to draw consumers to the sprawling North Amherst location that by then will be populated with many more service oriented businesses.  

12,000 square foot Trolley Barn, opening this September

14,400 square foot former sawmill, ready to rock once again

The Mill District from above

No Do Over For You!

Helen Berg at Select Board meeting 

Helen Berg's complaint about the Town Clerk not following state law by drawing names from a hat rather than alphabetically placing names on the ballot, would have been dismissed even if she had hired an attorney, as the town received permission to do so in the form of special state legislation w-a-y back in 1975.

 Aren't we special

That of course is why everybody forgot about it, and there was some brief concerned about Berg's threat to overturn the election where she lost by more than a landslide.

Now if we could just get the state legislature to approve downsizing Amherst Town Meeting from 240 to 60, we might actually attract qualified candidates armed with something this larger body is sorely lacking:  altruistic common sense.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Retreat Marches On

 The Retreat, Definitive Plan

As expected about 40 North Amherst residents showed up to the Conservation Commission meeting tonight to hear the team of 5 Landmark Properties consultants discuss the environmental issues relating to the property.

 Conservation Commission meeting 7:45 PM

About a half dozen neighbors spoke during public comment -- sometimes questioning the quality of the work performed -- but nothing was settled one way or the other.

 Landmark also hired a stenographer to record the meetings

A town picked "3rd party reviewer"(paid for by Landmark) will go over all the findings, retrace the field work, and report back to the Conservation Commission.   So tonight's public hearing was continued until July 23rd

NIMBYs hope maybe the town hired consultant will discover a unicorn lair on site.

Ira Bryck floats conspiracy theory the Cowls is trashing streams.  Response was, umm, No


Retreat at Amherst, LLC -- aka Landmark Properties -- filed their "Definitive Subdivision Plan" yesterday with the Amherst Planning Department just under the May 29 deadline to avoid coming under new zoning bylaws (and permit cost increases) since filing their preliminary plan back in November.

They also wrote checks to the town totaling $82,536 for application and inspection fees, which underscores just how serious they take this badly needed housing project, situated on 147.3 acres of woodland in northeast Amherst.

Retreat:  plans
Retreat:  More plans

Landmark will also be paying (in the tens of thousands) for a planning consultant to help the Planning Board deal with a wheel barrel full of paperwork.

 Google Earth viewMain entry now relocated to top left near town water treatment plant

The preliminary cluster plan had 123 lots with a total of 175 housing units with 71 of them single-family and 104 duplex for a total number of 641 occupants.  The definitive plan has the same numbers of units/occupants but spread out over a larger area.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the project is the targeted demographic for "occupants":  UMass students. Landmark Properties bills itself as, "one of the leading student housing development and management companies in the nation."

As such they are intimately familiar with NIMBY tactics and don't seem to mind investing years of effort (and tons of money) into making a project happen.   Since the initial deal was first hatched in February, 2013 we are already over a year in with no bulldozers in sight.

A traffic study by BETA Group concluded, "With the mitigation proposed the future traffic conditions resulting from the proposed residential development will provide for adequate and safe access to a public street, and will not have a detrimental effect on public safety and welfare in the study area."

One of the usual NIMBY complaints is higher traffic would increase accidents.

 The Next Steps:

This evening, Landmark Properties will present to the Amherst Conservation Commission their consultant's "wetland delineation" for the project, and naturally the NIMBYs will be out in force, loaded for bear. 

W.D. Cowls, Inc property off Henry Street.  Under contract for $6.5 million to Landmark Properties

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Another "Event" @ ARHS

APD @ Amherst Regional High School

UPDATE:  Thursday morning

According to APD Chief Scott Livingstone the individual involved is one of Amherst's homeless population that police are "familiar with," and since no criminal violations occurred, he is not in custody.

click to enlarge/read

Sweet New Location

Now open for business @ 19 North Pleasant Street

The Glazed Doughnut Shop -- literally owned by a Mom and Pop -- successfully debuted this morning in their new location almost dead center in the heart of the downtown, and they only lost one day of business during the entire transition. 

Who doesn't like doughnuts!

Owners Nick and Keren Rhodes, local Amherst Regional High School sweethearts now also married to their small business, had to move from their former location down the street at the Carriage Shops (233 North Pleasant) after only 18 months due to an impending sale of the entire complex.

 Flat panel menu signs

While they had to leave behind an expensive commercial kitchen hood, fortunately their new location had Amherst Creperie (and J. Jumbo's) as a tenant, and they left behind a bigger, better unit.

Commercial kitchen hood with built in fire suppression

A nifty new neon outdoor sign will be installed within the next week.  But for now the aroma of freshly made doughnuts will be enough to attract downtown travelers.  

 And gather they will

Clowns To The Left Of Me, Jokers ...

Ben Grosscup wielding a dangerous weapon

Just our luck that on 5/19 Ben Grosscup decides to show up for his only appearance thus far out of eight sessions of the 256th annual Amherst Town Meeting to sing in opposition of drones.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If You Build It

 130 Fearing Street building lot (290 Lincoln Ave house in background)

Some good news for year-round residents of Fearing Street and Lincoln Avenue living in the shadow of UMass: The lot sold by real estate speculator You-Pan Tzeng, after tearing down a "historic" barn, is going to become an owner occupied house. 

So I hope they get a warm welcome to the neighborhood that aggressively laments absentee owner student rentals. 

The new owners spent $140,000 to buy the lot and according to their approved building permit will spend an additional $250,000 on constructing a two-story, four-bedroom colonial.

With that kind of investment you probably are not going to rent it to four students. Besides, you would have to charge way more than going rate (which is already too high) in order to cover overhead -- including Amherst's high as a satellite property tax rate.

Mr. Tzeng is still trying to sell the house at 290 Lincoln Avenue from which the lot on Fearing Street was spun off.

Although he has dropped his price somewhat ($15,000), chances are anyone paying $425,000 for that grand old abode is not going to rent it out -- especially since the house is a "one family" and could be occupied by only four unrelated housemates.


ARHS side entrance (Dylan Akalis need not apply)

The Amherst Regional High School Senior Prom is this weekend and graduation at the UMass Mullins Center the following weekend.

Dylan Akalis, although graduating from ARHS, will not be at either milestone event.

Perhaps if he invited his male, minority friend to the senior prom -- you know, the one he affectionately used the N-word with -- PC school officials would fall all over themselves to allow a same sex couple to attend.

Dylan's dad reports the family will be out of town over the next two weekends as a preemptive strike in case there's a "racial incident" at either of the school sponsored events.  Not being in the area with your entire family as witnesses makes for a pretty good alibi.

Since Dylan has not set foot on school property since the Facebook "threat" incident closed the school on  January 27th,  that has been the case for the vast majority of the racial incidents involving anonymous notes and/or graffiti left in ARHS rest rooms targeting teacher of color Carolyn Gardner. 

Yes Dylan was around for the first incident that happened in October, but since school officials purposely did not report it to Amherst police and worked diligently to cover it up, the other incidents that followed (after Dylan was long gone) were probably not the work of a copy cat.  

ARHS senior Camila Carpio was given a "social justice" award at the Sojourner Truth Memorial Celebration on Sunday.  She's the outspoken young lady who outed Dylan with a very misleading public Internet petition to ban Dylan from the senior prom and graduation.  

A petition that does not seem to be doing well, with a goal of only 100 signatures: the vast majority of the current "65 supporters" are NOT from Amherst and are not ARHS students.

When I asked the schools for a recent memo sent to them by Paula Akalis they redacted Dylan's name (and school personnel) "per confidentiality regulations."  Since Dyan was never charged with a crime and never appeared before a judge, newspapers would not be allowed to use his name either.  

Yes Ms. Carpio is a private citizen (who seems to covet the public limelight) so she is less bound by regulations than the Schools or a newspaper ... but that still does not make it okay.   

So where's the "social justice" in that?

Monday, May 26, 2014

So Future Generations Remember

Reverend John Balcom, a WW2 vet, at the podium enthralling a young listener 

While the Amherst Memorial Day parade portion of the remembrance is a brief affair, taking only 10 minutes to clear town center, the ceremony at the War Memorial Field is a lot longer and far more somber.

But the solemn event was still punctuated by unscripted reminders of what our freedom represents:  the rights of children to grow up in a land that respects individuality, allowing you -- nay, even encouraging you -- to stand out from the crowd.

 A young spectator checks the volume levels on a speaker for the Town Manager

A photogenic young lad strikes a prayerful pose

Amherst town leaders do what leaders do:  lead the parade thru Amherst Town center

Girl Scouts and a dog

Rounding a corner at War Memorial Field

Good sized crowd in attendance

VFW and Legion Color Guard, APD salute

Representative Ellen Story reminds the crowd that 750,000 Americans perished in the Civil War

Amherst Regional High School Chorale 

AFD Chaplain Bruce Arbour gives keynote address

Parade Within A Parade

Veterans: Why we remember at Memorial Day

The Hadley Memorial Day Parade has always been a tad more celebratory than somber -- more so this year with the additional commemoration of Hopkins Academy milestone anniversary.   And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as parents remind their children at some point what the day represents.

 With all the police units in the line of march, security is never an issue

This year's parade was the largest in years, running almost 40 minutes,  and the crowd of spectators that lined Rt 9 was also the largest in years and did not seem overly put off when a raincloud directly over Hadley town center opened up about half way through the festivities.

Hopkins Academy Marching Band

An entire division of floats, vehicles and marchers was added to commemorate Hopkins Academy 350th anniversary. Where academics has always co-existed with farming (and sports), with bountiful results on all fronts.

Mapleline Farms

Devine Farm

Wet Line Dancers

Jada on candy patrol

Ernie's Towing: Now that the students are gone, more time for parades

Sunday, May 25, 2014

You Talk Too Much ...

Springfield Sunday Republican

Today's Springfield Sunday Republican lead editorial was already getting lots of shares five days ago when it first hit the Internet, but it's even better that it made the print edition on the highest read day of the week for any newspaper.

Besides, the folks who exclusively get their news via print newspaper these days are an older crowd, so chances are a fair number of Amherst Town Meeting members will see the editorial. 

Too bad the editorial writers did not hold off a couple days to incorporate Wednesday's session of Town Meeting into the mix as it perfectly illustrates one of the major problems with Amherst Town Meeting:  The entire two hour twenty minute session dealt only with  "citizens petitions" and all four of them were from one citizen:  Vince O'Connor.

 Petition A

Since it only takes ten signatures to get on the warrant for the Annual Spring Town Meeting there's little barrier to entry.  And as you can see from Vince's petitions the very same people can sign all four requests to get on the ballot.  So all you need do is host a tofu dinner party for ten.

Petition B

Town Meeting also has little barrier to entry for being elected as it only takes one signature to get on the ballot, and yes that one signature can be your own.  Nobody seems to care about the local elections demonstrated by Amherst's usual turnout of well under 30% on average vs Presidential elections every four years where turnout is always in the 65-to-70% range.

Petition C

This lowering of the bar (from ten signatures to one) was passed by Town Meeting in 1997 and gave the Select Board permission to petition the state legislature for the change as a means of stimulating interest in bringing in fresh blood.  Unfortunately all it did was make it easier for the same old activists to recruit birds of a feather.

Petition D

As the editorial points out most neighboring towns finish their Town Meetings in one night or two, while Amherst Town Meeting seems to drone on forever.  The current 256th Annual Town Meeting has already met for 8 sessions and will require at least two more for a final box score of 10.

Over the past ten years Amherst Annual Town Meeting has required an average of 8.8 meetings with a high of 12 sessions in 2006 and 2007 to a low of "only" five in 2010.

One ironic solution would be to file a petition next spring (requiring only 10 signatures) increasing the minimum number of signatures from 10 to 100 -- or better yet 200 -- to get an issue on the annual warrant.

And just to illustrate the point, file another one (using the same ten people) saying something totally ridiculous like changing the name of Amherst to "La-La Land." 

Or officially changing the spelling of Amherst to take out the H, thus ruining their favorite tag line "where only the H is silent."

Another vital change would be to cut in half the number of Town Meeting members thereby increasing competition for the honor of serving, and increasing accountability since there would be fewer members to keep track of.

Over the past ten years attendance has averaged 66.7%, so one-third of the body fails to show up anyway.  

Attendance for the current Town Meeting (note 22 members are 0-8 and another 12 are 1-8 and only 68 members out of 251, or just 27%,  have a perfect attendance record)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Vince Strikes Again

 Vince O'Connor in the spotlight

It looks like even the Town Manager may support my "Motion To Dismiss"  Vince O'Connor's Articles 6 & 7 coming up at the June 2 Special Town Meeting.

You would think a guy who spends most of his free time on the arcane minutia of zoning and other local government ordinances would have checked state law for procedural ground rules.

Makes you wonder what other major mistakes he made in putting together the wording of those articles, which require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting.