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)