Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tell Me What I Don't Know

 Left 3: Consultants for Town Gown Steering Committee ($60,000 worth)

Consultants hired by the Town Gown Steering Committee made their second public presentation this evening to a less than packed audience.  In fact only a couple dozen concerned citizens showed up, barely outnumbering the 18 committee members and 3 consultants sitting in front of the Town Room.

 Town Gown Committee (right table)

The presentation was pretty much a detail oriented rehash of what we already know:  UMass Amherst is the economic driving force in town, with half our population consisting of students, faculty, and staff.

But housing has not kept pace with demand fueled by our #1 employer, causing high prices ($1078 median rent vs $872 in nearby communities) and an exodus (34% decrease) of post college worker bees aged 25-44.

The flip side to that equation is the problem:  The 22% increase in "college aged" youth swarming the town since 2000.  And in our antiquated system of government where NIMBYs rule, large scale housing projects have little to no chance of ever breaking ground.

 Amherst housing units have grown only 3% over 14 years

Some recent positive news, however

Much of Amherst is built out, leaving little land left for commercial and residential development.  But UMass is also the #2 landowner in town, and the consultants did identify tracts of their land suitable for mixed use development (student housing and retail).

Parking lots off Mass Ave

The undeveloped but "shovel ready" former Frat Row, once proposed as the Gateway Corridor project:

The parking lots off University Drive adjacent to Southwest Towers could also be developed.

Ideally any of these projects would be the result of a public/private partnership whereby the development would be taxable.  A sound visionary project, approved by the Chancellor, would stand a good chance of getting the necessary legislative approval. 

The consultants also pointed out the importance of cooperation between the two superpowers and a need for continuous oversight.

They suggested the Town Gown Steering Committee become a permanent entity and -- calling it "extremely important" -- advocated the town hire an "Economic Development Director," a pet project of Town Manager Musante for the past few years.

The consultants will submit their final report later in the Fall.

 Co-Chairs Dave Ziomek and Nancy Buffone (right)


Anonymous said...

I haven't heard much from UMass about the student who was killed on Northeast Street last Thursday. I work there & UMass hasn't sent out any campus-wide email about it or anything.... I wish there was a little more reporting on the incident & more acknowledgement of her death.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Students leave town after they graduate because of ... what?! The high price of housing?
Are they kidding?! Think again: isn't it the lack of employment opportunities in this area, and the prospect of better jobs elsewhere, that induced young folks to leave the Happy Valley? (Any good ideas how to develop more interesting businesses here in town, and I'm not talking about the housing construction business or athletic club business? We tried "hidden tech" a decade ago, and there was Qteros....)

Dr. ed said...

Ummm, if you take out those parking lots -- which are HIGH DEMAND lots, where are the people who part there going to park?

Southie said...

Is it just me or does it seem like every time issues like this arise, many act like there's cure to the problem if we continue on the same path? It's a college town and always will be and as the colleges continue to grow, which they will more and more people will acknowledge that they can make allot of money off renting their homes and moving on. Mark my words Amherst will not change it's business model and this progression to where we are today has been going on for a very long time. Myself included have long considered when will enough be enough and when will I be the next to move on and put my house up as a rental.

Anonymous said...

People travel way to fast on North East Street. Especially at night after a few drinks. If Amherst moves ahead with the Retreat they should put in a side walk. Or you are going to lose track of the body count!

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, as much as I cringe to suggest subsidizing anyone, can the case be made for subsidizing the housing for older young adults -- single people & couples in their late 20's & early 30's -- ignoring the fact that they aren't income eligible and subsidizing them anyway?

People in this age group are still young enough to be considered peers to the college kids -- they aren't members of their parent's generation -- and yet they have not only outgrown keg stands & such, but have adult responsibilities like jobs and sometimes kids.

They aren't going to be all that upset about neighbors having a loud party at 2PM -- they might even stop over -- but they'll make it very clear why the same thing at 2AM is NOT acceptable, in the way that only peers can.

Is the problem that you don't have anyone slightly older than the college kids -- anyone young enough to say "I'm not impressed, stop being A-holes."