UMass/Amherst: A city within a town
The Town Gown Steering Committee held their first public (working) meeting since hearing the final report from their $60,000 consultants, U3 Advisers.
Co-Chair of the 23-member committee, Dave Ziomek, who is also the Assistant Town Manager, set the stage with three simple questions: "What did you like; what didn't you like; and where do we go from here?"
It didn't take long for black sheep member Rolf Karlstrom to jump in with what he didn't like, proclaiming he was "extremely dissappointed" in the final report.
The neighborhood activist said the report did not follow up on the U3 Advisers preliminary report which seemed to indicate some concern with the impact of developments on peripheral neighborhoods such as Fearing Street, where he lives.
He told his fellow committee members that it is legally possible to define "student rental" without violating Massachusetts strict fair housing laws. Once so defined zoning ordaninaces could be enacted that would require setback distances from owner occupied, family-oriented housing, thus keeping neighborhoods from being absorbed into a Borg collective of student slums, like Phillips Street for instance.
Others described the document as "visionary" adding they didn't like "dense documents" with too much verbiage. The idea of a University Town of Amherst Collaborative (UTAC) a downsized offshoot of the 23-member Steering Committee seemed to garner universal support.
Although there was a brief firefight when town Finance Director Sandy Pooler said UTAC should avoid taking on "affordable housing" as a mission since other committees are working on that.
Late arriving member Amilcar Shabazz pointed out that's exactly what UTAC should be discussing -- the plight of the have nots -- rather than just trying to stimulate business development to make the rich, even richer.
Former Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe cited the camaraderie of town and University officials coming together at a (large) table to discuss their future as, alone, being worth $60,000. Kind of like the economic urban myth that it's worthwhile for government to hire employees to dig a ditch while another group fills it back in.
Using Public Private Partnerships (the 3 Ps) whereby private developers would site projects on land owned by the University, thus generating tax revenues to the town also received overwhelming support although some expressed concern that U3 did not better explain how to make it happen.
John Kennedy, Vice Chancellor for Community Relations, did reassure the group, "The University is actively investigating Public Private Partnerships ... we're hard at work on that."
The U3 recommendation that the town hire an "economic development director" also received strong endorsement (an idea already popular with Town Manager Musante) from the Steering Committee as did the idea of having a broader overall target for where development occurs. In other words, none of the 5 areas cited U3 should be ruled out (even though they seemed to really favor only two).
The full Steering Committee will meet one last time in the coming weeks to flesh out their final letter of transfer with recommendations to Town Manager John Musante and UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.