Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Festive Family Fourth of July

South Amherst Town Common.  South Congregational Church (top left)

The historic South Amherst Common comes alive the morning of July 4th, as it has done for over 100 years, with the sights and sounds of a Children's Parade.  

Happy kids, with their awesome steeds all dressed up in red white and blue taking a few laps around the bucolic common.

Rockwell would be ever so proud. 

Another Sleeping Beauty DUI

 Tyrone Sanders, age 32, stands before Judge John Payne

For the second time this month Amherst police had to awaken a driver so they could arrest him for Driving Under the Influence.

On the one hand you would rather have a drunk asleep behind the wheel of a parked vehicle, but the problem of course is prior to pulling over and passing out, he was a scud missile.

In Eastern Hampshire District Court yesterday, after being arraigned before Judge John Payne, Mr. Sanders took the Commonwealth's offer of a Chapter 24D disposition, available only to first time offenders.

He will lose his license for 45 days, pay over $650 in fines/fees and be on probation (at $65/month) for the next year.

Transportation For All

Downtown Amherst

The Amherst Transportation Task Force held their first meeting yesterday since the Planning Board voted to absorb the Amherst Transportation Plan into the town's Master Plan.

The committee was first appointed by the Town Manager in 2011 and consists of six members, two each from the Public Works Committee, Planning Board, and Public Transportation and Bicycling Committee.

The meeting started with a moment of silence for Vice Chair Charlie Moran who recently lost a battle with cancer.

Town Manager John Musante (rt), DPW Chief Guilford Mooring (left)

Town Manager John Musante was in attendance at the request of Chair Richard Roznoy to give  some direction on what the future holds for the Task Force.  "Let's not have the report collect dust" said Musante, who then suggested the Task Force concentrate on "Bringing to life a traffic calming toolkit."

But the first question was does the Task Force continue to meet as an official committee and work in a leadership role to implement structural changes highlighted in the Transportation Plan, or simply make recommendations back to their home committees?

DPW Chief Guilford Mooring confirmed the consultants Nelson/Nygaard had signed a three year follow up  hourly consulting contract.  Task Force Chair Roznoy said he would arrange a conference call with them at their next July 13 meeting  to "pick their brain" in regards to moving forward.

Either way "traffic calming" will be a major focus of the Task Force in the near future.  Guilford Mooring pointed out that involves the "Three E's":  Education, Enforcement, Engineering.

He also pointed out that "80% of the problems (speeding, bad driving, etc) are caused by people who live there, so that's an education thing."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Morning Select Board Meeting

Aaron Hayden appears before Amherst Select Board this morning

After coming out of a closed door meeting with the Town Manager and spying the media present -- all two of us -- Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer quickly changed the location of the posted meeting from the Town Manager's private office on the 3rd floor to the usual, more spacious, 2nd floor Town Room.

Cable access entity Amherst Media was Missing In Action, so the full one hour meeting was not live streamed or recorded.

First up former Select Board Chair Aaron Hayden representing Amherst College came to request a road work permit to install a fiber optic cable to their building at 271 South Pleasant Street.

Since this was only a "modification of an existing permitted system" the board did not have to hold an official "public hearing" to take public comment, not that Amherst College ever has much problems with NIMBYs.

The Select Board, keepers of the public way, quickly gave the request their unanimous approval

The Select Board then discussed the recent public forum regarding the North Amherst intersection, with Doug Slaughter calling the meeting,  "A good initial start to the process, but there's a lot of work left to do."

The Public Works Committee is planning to hold two meetings to discuss the intersection before making a recommendation to the Select Board, who has final authority.  One idea they will look at is to add a stop sign on Sunderland Road heading north where it intersects with Montague Road.

Stop sign on Sunderland Road is one possible idea for upper intersection

Town Manger Musante said there is one easy quick fix that can be implemented at the southernmost intersection of Meadown/Pine and North Pleasant by simply adjusting the cycle of the traffic control lights.

The Select Board will get recommendations from the Planning Board, Public Works Committee and Transportation Plan Task Force at their 8/31 meeting.

Before hearing the Town Manger's Report the board confirmed a bevy of committee appointments -- all by unanimous vote.

Although Chair Alisa Brewer stated the town was "struggling with many vacancies now," and that even with 16 appointments they just confirmed,  there was still a "significant hole to fill."

The Town Manager had good news for the Select Board telling them he was recently reelected Chair of the Pioneer Valley Transport Authority through 2017.  The PVTA is a critical component in the town's transportation system.

The Town Manager then reminded the Select Board he would be at the Kennedy School of Government for a three week training program July 6 through July 24th, and that Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek will be in charge of day-to-day operations in his absence.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Soggy Sunday

Amherst Community Fair:  jinx no more

In Amherst it used to be the quickest way to guarantee a monsoon was to have the Community Fair return for its annual run.  But this year, thankfully, broke that pattern.

A few jinxes remain however.

 Groff Park Wading Pool 11:30 AMLifeguard is as lonely as the Maytag repairman

This is the first weekend all the outdoor pools in Amherst open for the summer season, and obviously with today's weather they will not see much use.  The only person present this morning at Groff Park Wading Pool was the lifeguard.

 War Memorial "big pool" 11:45 AM

And no lifeguard is needed at the War Memorial Wading Pool since it was ripped out last winter by the DPW.

 Former site of War Memorial Wading Pool now turned mosquito hatching area

Of course with the amount of water that had already accumulated this morning, maybe the town should station someone nearby to prevent accidental drownings in the large puddle left behind.

Town Manager John Musante announced an "Amherst Center Working Group" last December to study the centrally located Memorial Field area, also known as Ziomek Field, as well as the adjoining playing fields owned by the Amherst Regional School System, but they have yet to meet.

I submit for their perusal, whenever they do get around to meeting, Exhibit A and Exhibit B:  The Mill River Recreation in deep North Amherst vs the more centrally located War Memorial Recreation area, with the DPW tree division as an adjoining neighbor.
 Exhibit A
 War Memorial Recreation area/DPW Tree Division

At both sites the playing fields are usable but Mill River will improve dramatically after a $127,351 renovation this year.  The children's playground areas, however, are different as night and day.

 War Memorial playground equipment is seriously outdated

War Memorial has a seriously cracked basketball court where they could have filmed the movie "San Andreas," and the playground equipment is almost non existent.

Exhibit B
Mill River Recreation area: a tad more functional

Five years ago then Town Manager Larry Shaffer first floated (pun intended) the idea of a splash park similar to Northampton's Look Park at War Memorial.

 Mill River playground equipment is a tad more modern

Since then the town spent $200,000 (mostly reimbursed by a state PARC grant) to rehabilitate the War Memorial Pool, but has done nothing to the surrounding play area.  And it's not only become an embarrassing eyesore, but it's now a potential health hazard as well.

 Groff Park Wading Pool is beyond its rated lifespan

Spray parks are (relatively) cheap to build, cheap to maintain, super safe, and a heck of a lot of fun.  The town should start planning for two of them -- one at Groff Park and the other at War Memorial.  Soon! 

Flag Flap

The Confederate Battle Flag under fire ... again

As seems to be the norm whenever there's a flag controversy anywhere in the "land of the free" there's a parallel with out little college town.  Take flag removal for instance.

Yesterday an activist shimmied up a 30 foot flagpole to remove the Confederate flag from a Civil War monument on public grounds in South Carolina.

She had to use tree climbing gear because the flag is fixed at that position all the way up, hence it cannot be brought down to half-staff, or all the way down for easy removal.

In Amherst back in 2004, days after the relection of President Bush, a local woman -- also known as an "activist" -- removed a flag from immediately in front of Amherst Town Hall, just below the United Nations flag.

Of course in her case it was pretty easy to accomplish since the flag is attached to a pulley system.

She mistakenly thought the flag of Puerto Rico was the state flag of Texas put up to honor the reelection of George W. Bush, and took matters into her own naive hands.

The flag pole in front of Town Hall, erected in 1972 to specifically fly the UN flag, somewhat routinely flies other flags under it for special commemorations including the Rainbow Flag that briefly replaced it after gay marriage was first legalized in our state many years ago.  

Recently the Black Liberation Flag was flown to commemorate Black History Month, or the Children's Flag flies in April to raise awareness for National Child Abuse Prevention month.  And yes, the Puerto Rican flag still flies annually as well. 

The Children's Memorial Flag flies in April under the UN flag

Perhaps we can get the ACLU to create a First Amendment flag so we can be reminded or our sacred duty to uphold it no matter how messy the going gets.

Redundant perhaps, since that is precisely what the American flag represents.

The BIG American Flag will fly for July 4th in town center as will the 29 commemorative flags

Friday, June 26, 2015

"The Lot"

Amherst Town Common as designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874

Yes, that swath of green space south of College Street directly in front of Amherst College Converse Memorial Library is part of the original Amherst Town Common.

Click photos to enlarge
Olmsted was invited to town by Austin Dickinson on behalf of Amherst Ornamental Tree Association

Back in 1927 Amherst Town Meeting voted in favor or Article 27:

“To see if the Town will vote to relinquish the care and use of that portion of the common at the center of the town which is southerly from College Street, to the Trustees of Amherst College for their use for park purposes only, and to allow said trustees to construct a crosswalk thereon, and plant suitable shrubbery, it being understood and agreed that the area herein described shall at all times be neatly cared for and maintained or take other action thereon.”
Amherst College is therefor caretaker of the property, but not the owner.

Interestingly enough the original Amherst Town Common extends south all the way down to the railroad tracks (now the Norwottuck Rail Trail) where Amherst Farmers Supply has been located for 70 years.

Common area south and below The Octagon and in front of Memorial Hall is part of the original Town Common
Green in front of AC Alumni Gym is also part of original Town Common
Olmsted originally wanted to level the hill where Octagon now sits so folks in town center could better view Holyoke Mountain Range

Amherst is currently considering much needed basic repairs and improvements to the historic North Common located directly in town center.  Within the next few weeks a $500,000+ proposal will be submitted to the state for possible 70% reimbursement.  

If that grant proposal is turned down (as it was three years ago) maybe Amherst Town Meeting should vote to "relinquish the care and use of that portion of the common" to Amherst College.  

North Common in front of Town Hall and Grace Church is far more forested than the rest of the Town Common

Thursday, June 25, 2015

North Amherst Center Reboot

Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant streets (middle). Sunderland & Montague Road slightly north

About 75 residents and town officials packed into the new Amherst Survival Center building directly opposite long-time anchor business Cowls Building Supply for a public hearing on what to do with the intersection of Montague and Sunderland road that meet directly in front of the North Amherst Library.

 North Amherst Center public forum was standing room only

The Cecil Group study completed four years ago identified the somewhat complicated meeting of five roads within the circumference of a rotary as a prime candidate for being "reconfigured and redesigned."

And since then the general area has only become busier with The Mill District coming on line, the Survival Center moved into their new building on Sunderland Road, and the PVTA  increased bus service to that location. 

Town officials presented four options, one better than "Let's Make A Deal:"

 Option #1

Door #1 would be only the slightest of changes, making the right onto Montague Road (going north) a little more than just a swoop where you can take it at warp speed, and making it a little more like a 90 degree intersection to slow you down.  

The next three options would all require taking/buying property immediately behind the North Amherst Library.   And since that property has a long history of association with automobiles, there are probably brownfield concerns.

Option #2 (green space indicates taking out concrete replacing with grass)

Option #3

Option #4

The Planning Board, Public Works Committee and Transportation Plan Task Force will all come up with "recommendations" but the Amherst Select Board, as "keepers of the public way," have final authority.

But obviously they will take into consideration the desires of those who live in the neighborhood and commuters who routinely travel through the area.

Downside of offering four choices, however, is that it's all but guaranteed the final choice will not please everyone.


Cook Fountain, Sweetser Park

As mothers have angrily said for generations, "That's why we can't have nice things!"  The Enos Cook Memorial Fountain in Sweetser Park is not only historic, but it's beautiful.

A little less so now after vandals tagged it with graffiti. 

Nitwit needs spell check

And situated almost dead in the center of town on a direct route to the Emily Dickinson Homestead/Museum, it gets a lot of traffic from folks interested in the history of Amherst.

Or families, coming to Sweetser Park to briefly be together with no other agenda besides being a family.

It's getting to the point where the town needs to install cameras to cover all public places.  Or attack drones.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making The North Common Uncommon

From above the North Common looks more like a forest
North Common is a square island of green bordered by concrete on all sides

A dozen citizens turned out last night for the public hearing concerning the North Common, which outgoing Amherst Historical Commission Chair Mike Hanke deemed "forgotten territory," but he also pointed out it's "the centerpiece of our town."

 Only 1 downtown business person attended

Discussion centered around making the area "more inviting," like Sweetser Park which is wide open, sunny and has the beautiful Cook Fountain as a centerpiece.

 Sweetser Park was laid out by Amherst Town Common designer Frederick Law Olmsted and his son did the final design implementation
North Common does have a historic 1904 water fountain donated by Young Women's Temperance Union, but it is broken

The Public Shade Tree Committee attended and lamented the condition of many of the trees due to soil erosion and heavy foot traffic in and around exposed roots.

 The most ailing maple will need to have lights removed before it can be taken down safely

 Current Merry Maple (rt) is healthy

At least three trees -- including the oldest and largest in the center of the North Common are ailing and could come down in the near future, whether the town does renovations to the North Common or not.
 Biggest tree on the North Common (125+ years old) is not doing well

 Railroad ties used to box in trees are rotting

At least two other trees were planted as "living memorials", one -- a Tulip tree -- for former Town Manager Allen Torrey and the other a Norway Maple planted by the Valley Peace Center in 1969 to remember "casualties of the Vietnam war."

  Tulip tree planted for Amherst's first official Town Manager,  Allen Torrey

Unlike trees, plaques will be easy to move

The town will be applying for a PARC grant within the next three weeks and should hear back by the Fall.  Other than necessary tree removal the renovation of the North Common is dependent on the grant, which reimburses the town 70% of the cost.  

Town was turned down three years ago for such a grant proposal of $500,000
Drainage problems near town center and antiquated electricity hook up

Anyone who runs their own business will agree, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression."  The North Common is indeed the centerpiece of our town -- and has been for 140 years. 

Grant or no grant, it's time for a sprucing up.  Let's put a smile on the face of Amherst.