Friday, October 2, 2015

A Matter Of Student Safety

Attorney Tom Reidy and Cliff Laraway appear before ZBA last night, Chair Mark Parent (ctr)

Sometimes the difference between life and death is measured in mere seconds -- especially when dealing with The Beast otherwise known as  fire.

A cluttered escape route, narrow stairway, or -- God forbid -- a door locked from the outside that doesn't allow opening from within, could quickly spell death of a most unimaginable kind.

Would you trust your life to this fire escape?

At last night's Special Permit hearing for 382 North Pleasant Street, which most people probably think of as a fraternity (which apparently it still is),  Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Mark Parent clearly stated, "My concern is about safety, that's what is driving this.  Some kids do crazy stuff and we need to protect them from themselves."

A September 29 Site Visit turned up "living rooms" with doors on them, and at least ten rooms with external locks on them (which as a joke someone could lock the person in), as well as a bevy of extra mattresses in storage.

Mr. Parent told the petitioner and his attorney, "It is very clear to me this site is occupied by at least 10 people consistently. No question it's more than the 8 allowed.  We need to come up with conditions that rectify that."

The town of Amherst has a zoning bylaw that restricts occupancy to no more than four unrelated housemates per one family unit.

Owner Cliff Laraway is requesting a Special Permit to allow the structure to be a two family, non owner occupied structure (for up to 8 unrelated tenants).  But the layout of the former fraternity, with so many rooms, makes it hard to enforce only eight of them be bedrooms.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra stated, "There have to be significant structural changes, like taking out a wall vs simply removing a door".

The Amherst Fire Department, having done car counts over the month of September, considers it a "rooming house" with 10 or more tenants, thus requiring an expensive ($39,000) sprinkler system.

 Click to enlarge/read

The Special Permit hearing was continued to November 5th so the ZBA could request an AFD representative attend.

The petitioner was sternly instructed to come back with floor plans that show eight and only eight bedrooms as well as physical changes in place to keep the other numerous available rooms from conveniently be used as additional bedrooms.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra did not waste any time taking enforcement steps to ensure the current population of the building goes down to only eight:


Dr. Ed said...

I still maintain that the no more than 4 unrelated persons bylaw would fail to withstand a challenge under the anti-discrimination laws. (Remember that the Worcester bylaw was not challenged under those grounds.)

It has long been established that you can not refuse to rent to a (male/female) couple on the grounds that they aren't married, so well established that one has to remember that this was once called "living in sin."

It is established in Massachusetts that any restriction on the number of occupants beyond the square-footage requirements (both bedroom and total unit) of the State Sanitary Code is discrimination, as is the refusal to rent to a large family (e.g. lots of children) providing that the unit passes the square footage (and other) requirements of 105 CMR 410.

It is also established in Massachusetts that neither marriage nor "blood" have any legal relevance, a point Marshall made in the Goodridge gay marriage decision. As an example of how much society has changed since the 1970s (when the Bylaw was approved), back then men could legally rape their wives and domestic violence was viewed as a "family matter."

I can't see Judge Payne being impressed with a copy of a marriage license being presented as a defense to a 209A violation. Or a child support obligation or anything else.

Nor can I see MCAD being much impressed with mention that a woman's four children have four different fathers, none of whom she was ever married to -- and even less impressed with the fact that neither they nor their mother are legally related to her lesbian partner, with whom she is living but not married to. Nor, beyond being an indication of the stability of their relationship, would DCF particularly care that they were married.

Seriously: The one social benefit I thought gay marriage would provide, parental rights & responsibilities regarding the partner's emancipated minor children, it doesn't. The spouse still has to go through the formal adoption proceedings, just like lesbians did before gay marriage, there is no legal significance to being married to the biological mother. (NB: The above two paragraphs are a composite of actual people known to me.)

Hence, Larry, as much as you may like the ordinance, I don't think it would pass muster under either an equal protection challenge or non-discrimination challenge.

There are lots of unmarried couples in Amherst who have children from prior relationships, and if they have more than two children, that's five unrelated persons as the spouse isn't related -- we're talking homeowners here. You going to enforce this against them?

Above and beyond that, this isn't the 1970's anymore. It is not legal to deny housing on the basis of marital or family status, it is not legal for a private person to do this. Well, it strikes me as "Violation of civil rights under color of law" for a municipality to do so.

Yes, they would have to go to Federal Court -- but I don't see why someone doesn't.
Section 1983 suits against municipalities can be quite lucurative...

Anonymous said...

^Agreed but you need the cash to fight it…or a lawyer willing to extend some time on the hope of a payout.

Dr. Ed said...

Agreed but you need the cash to fight it…or a lawyer willing to extend some time on the hope of a payout

I know, and it is why I fear that thus country is inexorably heading toward a revolution. Even if you have the cash to pay a significant retainer, you still can't get a lawyer to actually fight for you. And don't get me going about the schmucks I saw as defense attorneys in Belchertown District Court -- I would say that I (a non-lawyer) could have done a better job drunk than any of them could do sober, but for the fact that there was one whom I don't think I ever saw sober.

The problem is that the ABA itself is political, the law schools are political, and hence only approved causes and people have civil rights. I know of one incident that the Town of Amherst should have been sued for, or at least make a very public apology for, and they would have had the kid been Black but he wasn't.

Reality 101 is that we have no civil rights in this country anymore...

Dr. Ed said...

And this is what the Massachusetts Constitution says:

Article XI. Every subject of the commonwealth ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property, or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely, and without any denial; promptly, and without delay; conformably to the laws.

Anonymous said...

A revolution, huh? Good thing we've got the 2nd amendment. I am going to need to protect my family from one side or the other in that coming fight. Or do you, Ed Think that this revolution will be a bloodless one? Or maybe it's just silly talk?

Dr. Ed said...

Or do you, Ed Think that this revolution will be a bloodless one? Or maybe it's just silly talk?

I fear for the future of the Republic.

And don't think that you have Second Amendment Rights, either...

Anonymous said...

Ed, think, think, think. The children ARE related to the parents. Invalid example. 4 unrelated means 4 (four) unrelated.

Anonymous said...

Well, you certainly won't if the Constitution is not upheld. The President is sworn to protect and defend that document. This President... One wonders has he ever read it?

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "...don't...have second amendment rights"? Tell us exactly under what Constitution are you living? I realize it's trashed every day. Most of us have never read it. Fewer still understand it. Including most elected officials.

Dr. Ed said...

Ed, think, think, think. The children ARE related to the parents.

They are related to A parent -- but it is biologically impossible for the other lesbian to be the child's father, hence no blood relationship. And if the two lesbians aren't married, no relationship by marriage -- although absent an adoption proceeding, I am not sure that they would be "related" to the other spouse even with a recognized marriage.

Remember that all have to be related to each other, and without a formal marriage license, the two lesbians aren't related to each other. Remember, that is why they wanted the ability to get married....

And absent the biological impossibility, all of the above is true for the unmarried heterosexual couples as well. Of which there are a lot in Amherst....

Dr. Ed said...

Anonymous Anonymous said... What do you mean "...don't...have second amendment rights"? Tell us exactly under what Constitution are you living?

Since 1994, the Second Amendment has been null & void in Massachusetts -- and that was Angelo Paul Cellucci, a Republican, who signed a gun law that Bill Weld publicly stated that he (Weld) would have vetoed.

Another Republican, Mitt Romney, bluntly stated that those who couldn't afford to keep paying the government $100 also didn't have to continue owning their guns -- not, mind you, that the government would compensate the citizen for the value of the seized property, another clause of the Constitution notwithstanding.

On the national level, the Brady Bill served as the de-facto repeal of the Second Amendment. Whole categories of people were subjected to arbitrary lifetime bans on gun possession -- are you familiar with how the VA is "disarming veterans"?

If the government can eliminate a constitutional protection without a constitutional amendment, then it is not a constitutional protection.

In Massachusetts, you only possess a gun at the pleasure of the government. (Did you read what you signed? Did you know you waived all your other rights and gave them permission to come into your home and seize your guns?)

There are a hundred different (somehow legal) ways for the government to get your guns from you -- any time they want to -- it's part of the 209A process and those are so incredibly easy to obtain that it isn't funny....

I realize it's trashed every day. Most of us have never read it. Fewer still understand it. Including most elected officials.

Yet you somehow expect these same elected officials to observe it? I don't.....

Anonymous said...

This is Amherst, Ed. Love makes a family.

Anonymous said...

It is the Constitution of the United States of America. Not of Massachusetts. No state can repeal any of it. Defacto or otherwise. And our President, and any federal official vows to uphold it. Though this president, though he' s studied Communist author Saul Alinski's Rules for Radicals appears to be unfamiliar with the US Constitution. I know, I know. They call conservatives Crazies.

Anonymous said...

I thought it took a village. Albeit a village of in-the-closet Marxists. On second thought, many are out of that particular closet.

Anonymous said...

Yes including Sanders and Obama.