Friday, October 31, 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Mess With The Brook

The Brook (54% owner occupied)

The Brook, originally an apartment complex built in the roaring 1970s called Riverglade Apartments and then converting to condos in the late 1980s, is getting serious about safety.

Last night neighbors, management and Amherst Police officer Dominick Corsetti came together to continue discussing a "neighborhood watch" group.  They first met a month ago and already Trustees have taken suggestions of increased outdoor lighting, uprooting large bushes near individual entryways (where bad guys can hide) and printing up stickers announcing their watchfulness.

Other ideas ranged from having APD use the office they were meeting in as a "substation," where officers can stop in during routine patrols and take a break or do paperwork, to starting a blog so all residents can stay informed about what's happened in the 146 unit complex.

For security reasons the group also discussed having an email list serve or forming a Yahoo user group so only members would have access to sensitive information, such as when someone may be away on vacation or business and wants other members to keep an eye on their home.

With the staffing level of Amherst Police bordering on the dangerously low side, any preventative measures individuals can take themselves for their safety and security is a good thing.

 Current office that could jointly become APD substation

So collectively coming together only makes sense.   The more eyeballs the better.

Columbia/Justice Drive neighborhood across the street has had one for years

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lipstick On A Pig?

One East Pleasant (most recent rendering)

After 30 years of attending countless public meetings, some of them somewhat heated, I can honestly say the Planning Board hearing of 10/22 was the most vitriolic in my long experience.

 10/22 Planning Board hearing crowd, mostly NIMBYs

Although I did miss the "neighborhood meeting" a few years ago concerning the now dead solar farm installation on ye' old landfill.

The letter written by Steve Bloom of Lincoln Avenue was particularly biting.  Interesting that he was not present to read it himself, which may have contributed to the overall nastiness.

That kind of rhetoric would never be allowed on the floor of Amherst Town Meeting (can't question the motives of individuals) so maybe Planning Board Chair David Webber will consider using his gavel when the hearing continues ...

David Webber (ctr) PB Chair at 10/22 meeting

Party House of the Weekend

Last weekend was relatively tame for outright rowdy behavior -- no party house arrests or $300 tickets issued for noise/nuisance.  But police still had to break up a number of large gatherings and issue verbal warnings, which will show up in the Rental Registration data base.

Take 47 Fearing Street for instance:

Meanwhile, a couple hundred yards away APD arrested Kenneth Lamoine, age 19, for underage drinking and driving with an open container of alcohol in his car.  A DUI in the making so to speak.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

100% Compliance!

Building Commissioner Rob Morra, head of the table

The Rental Bylaw Implementation Group heard nothing but good news this afternoon from Building Commissioner Rob Morra:  All 1,261 rental properties in the the bustling little college town of Amherst are now in full compliance with the bylaw overwhelmingly passed by Amherst Town Meeting last May.

Morra told the committee that originally using assessor records the number of rental properties was pegged at 1,575.  After the first bulk mailing, however, about 300 let it be known that they do not rent out any part of their property.

Taking a hint from President Reagan the Building Commissioner used a "trust but verify" methodology to confirm they were indeed not renting, and he continues to keep those properties on a "watch list".

About 30 property owners out of the 1,261 did not take the bylaw seriously and continued to ignore requests to come into compliance.  They were issued $100/day fines and soon enough ALL of them became believers.

But not before $8,000 was collected in fines, with the most stubborn landlord accounting for about $3,000 of that.

In total, the Rental Permit Bylaw has generated $126,100 in registration permit fees ($100 per property times 1,261) plus the $8,000 in fines for a total of $134,100 this Fiscal Year, FY14.

Yellow pins indicate APD actions taken

The other equally major piece of good news is the town website for all things rental now shows properties that have been warned or cited (or arrested) by APD for noise and or nuisance complaints over the last year or so.

Neighbors can now track the major offenders.  Once three complaints appear under a yellow pin in a single location, that property is potentially subject to a revocation of the rental permit.

DUI Dishonor Roll

You drink, you drive, you lose

These days when almost everybody -- including grandparents -- have a smart phone, the police rather routinely get tips about "erratic drivers".

Many of them do not pan out, but APD reacts to them the same way AFD reacts to a "still alarm" (automated alarm, usually false):  as though it were the real thing.

But when a call comes in from a neighboring police department regarding an erratic driver that is the equivalent of an AFD "box alarm," where the majority of the time it's the real deal.

On Sunday night from the time Dispatch informed a patrol officer of a report of an erratic driver coming from Belchertown into Amherst via their police department it took less than ten minutes for three patrols cars to corral a BMW erratically piloted by Charles Peters, age 21.

Charles Peters, 21, before Judge Payne Monday morning (case continued 12/2)

Nice teamwork.


UMass Police also took a potential killer off the road for Driving Under the Influence and with an "open container" of alcohol in the vehicle with him (although the clever boy had it disguised in a water bottle.

Kenneth Sullivan, age 19, before Judge Payne Monday morning. (case continued to 12/15)
UPDATE (before I even publish the original):

 Ann Whalen Apartment, Kellogg Avenue 10:20 a.m.

AFD responded to Ann Whalen Apartments in town center for what originally went out as a "still alarm" called in by the alarm company, but then quickly became a "box alarm" when smoke was observed coming out a 3rd floor window.

 Engines 1 & 2 on scene immediately.  Engine 3 told to "stand down"

Fortunately it was nothing major (pot left on stove).  Very fortunate.

 Assistant Chief Stromgren requesting driver not run over hose

Monday, October 27, 2014

"An Oasis Of Peace"

Welcome to West Cemetery an "oasis of peace in the center of the municipality"

The Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee issued a written plea to One East Pleasant Street developers David Williams and Kyle Wilson, urging them to rethink current design plans that will encroach upon Amherst's most sacred ground and final resting place for our most revered citizen, Emily Dickinson. 

A bevy of trees and a 10-year-old historic mural are endangered by development plan

And just to make sure they got the message, a committee member read it publicly to them at the Planning Board meeting last Wednesday night.

 Click to enlarge/read

Of course so much heavy fire was being directed at the developers from all sides that night, they probably have forgotten about the trees due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

 South side of One East Pleasant mixed use project abutting West Cemetery

When the Amherst Carriage Inn hotel was first built in the early 1960s the footprint was graded to be auto friendly .

Amherst Carriage Inn circa 1960

The new owners want to return to the original topography and plan to fill in nearly five feet around the outermost border of their property, exactly where the 15 trees have stood for over a generation.

Kyle Wilson did tell the Planning Board they plan to, "Save what we can, and plant more."

The historic mural -- which can't be saved due to demolition --will be repainted on the southern side of the new building by the original artist, David Fichter, but even that has folks grumbling since the original work had many civic minded volunteers who helped bring it to life.

 Carriage shops bordered by West Cemetery to the south

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Harris Street Horticulture

Harris Street this morning:  Whole lot of planting going on
Amherst Shade Tree Committee outreach program

About a dozen trees went into the ground today during the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee's annual Neighborhood Tree Planting event, and this year the Harris Street neighborhood in North Amherst -- where all but one of the homes are owner occupied -- was pretty enthusiastic.

Finally some good news for the street which connects on one end with -- cough, cough -- Pine Street, the busy bombed out thoroughfare that has been under construction for a very long time.

 A Ginko tree, one of many varieties planted today

Just last week the Planning Board held a "Scenic Roads Hearing" regarding two Norway Maples located a tad too close to Pine Street, immediately adjacent to the Harris Street neighborhood.

 Marisol was very happy for her "naderhood"

The Public Shade Tree Committee had recommended against removal, but they were overruled by the Planning Board in a unanimous decision. Tree Warden Alan Snow -- who also supported removal -- reports the trees were gone the very next day.

 Tree Warden Alan Snow is always happy about planting trees (even on a Sunday)

Two years ago Amherst Town Meeting approved $612,000 to purchase 2,000 trees, so these dozen or so are but a drop in the bucket.  Any Amherst resident can apply for free trees, but the planting season is just about over.

Parity At The Top?

Coach Kellogg with a future recruit for the UMass women's team

UMass/Amherst has the distinction once again of having the highest paid employee in the entire education oriented state of Massachusetts, a man who coaches a team of college aged youth on how best to put a round ball through a slightly larger circle of metal with a net attached. 

With a 109-86 win/loss record at UMass, the state's flagship of higher education, there's no question Derek Kellogg is successful at it. And obviously his employers showed some price point sensitivity as they kept it under $1 million, but not by much.

Of course local newspapers are quick to point out that Kellogg's new $994,500 salary only places him at #38 in compensation for coaches in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

Fair enough, it's a high paying field for sure.

But still, how does UMass/Amherst justify paying the women's basketball coach one-third of the men's coach?  And since Mr. Kellogg's new raise now puts Sharon Dawley's salary at one-quarter of his, are they at least going to give her a piddly $100K raise so she stays at only one-third of his salary?

Apparently gender discrimination is par for the course in Massachusetts

You also have to wonder how the five labor unions on campus are going to take this?  They are being offered table scraps in their contracts yet the University sees fit to cook up a sumptuous raise for this one rather high profile position?

Maybe I'm just spoiled by the little host "college town" of Amherst where the highest paid person in public service is a woman, School Superintendent Maria Geryk

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mullins Center Mellowing?

Skrillex show was promoted on PVTA buses

Unlike the Fantazia concert last month at the UMass-owned but privately-managed Mullins Center, AFD was able to handle the alcohol induced floodgates that seem to open with certain music acts, not to single out Electronic Dance Music -- but EDM sure seems to do it.

Last night "Mullins Center Command" stationed on site (personnel, but not the ambulances) for the Skrillex show handled 22 total patients, 15 treated and released but another seven requiring ambulance transport to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital vs 11 transports to CDH for Fantazia.

 Easthampton and South Hadley FD staging at AFD North Station for Mullins Center EDM show

AFD Chief Nelson requires the venue to hire two out-of-town ambulances to supplement AFD although they were still not enough to prevent AFD ambulances from joining in the convoy to CDH.

At the Fantazia concert, however, in addition to five AFD ambulances and the two out-of-town ambulances, we still had to call in Northampton FD via mutual aid for a college aged youth with a serious head injury.

 A3 at Mullins Center last night for ETOH college aged female

So yes, last night was a LOT better.  But still unacceptable

UMPD was busy all night as well

"Psychological & Emotional Abuse"

 A benign Calvin Terrell appears before angry parents 10/3/14 at the Middle School

The Special Education Parent Advisory Council, a state mandated organization whose charge is to give advice to the District and advocate for children with special needs, heard members brand Calvin Terrell's 10/2 presentation at Amherst Regional Middle School "psychological and emotional abuse" at their 10/15 meeting.

The advisory group members expressed dismay with Amherst Public School officials response to the fiasco saying, "This slow and anemic response is not acceptable."  Indeed!

Interestingly the schools did launch an Internet survey of Middle School parents but refuse to release the actual ANONYMOUS responses, citing privacy concerns.

But their "analysis" shows a majority (54%) had problems with the presentation and only 15.5% thought his work "should continue".

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Show Me The Money!

Aaron Gornstein announces $1.6 million tax credit to a crowd of about 50

For the second time in only two days state officials have come to Amherst bearing gifts. BIG ones:

On Tuesday the Governor announced a $1.5 million MassWorks Grant to relocate utilities underground in the north end of town center, and today Housing Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein announced a $1.6 million tax credit for Beacon Communities Development, the new owner of Rolling Green Apartments.

 Select Board, Housing Sheltering Committee, Housing Authority, Rolling Green residents and town staff on hand

The money will allow the private company that specializes in affordable housing to do much needed "deferred maintenance." Last Spring Amherst Town Meeting approved $1.25 million in Community Preservation Act money to go towards the $30 million deal.

 Representative Ellen Story "This is amazing!" (keeping the units affordable)

With the preservation in perpetuity of 41 units of affordable housing at Rolling Green (but all 204 units will count towards the SHI) the town stands a better chance of staying above the 10% Subsudized Housing Inventory, which inoculates against a developer coming into town doing a Ch40B development.

 Mark Epker President Beacon Communities Investment LLC

Happy campers