Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mill District May E-X-P-A-N-D

(red) Trolley Barn left, Atkins North top center Cowls Building Supply foreground

Atkins North and the Trolley Barn could get some company in the near future in that large lot on the south side of Cowls Road behind Cowls Building Supply, currently home to the saw mill that closed in 2009.

Beacon Communities, who purchased Rolling Green Apartments with $1.25 million in town assistance in order to keep it on our Subsidized Housing Inventory, is considering a mixed use, mixed income rental development with commercial space on the ground floor.

Beacon would manage the residential component and W.D. Cowls would maintain control of the commercial space.

The town's Master Plan calls for development exactly like this in Village Centers and the last two housing studies done for the town indicate an across the board shortage of housing -- especially affordable housing.

Since Atkins North opening last year the Mill District has already established itself as a destination spot.

Ye old saw mill will be demolished

The infusion of more potential customers within walking distance of the current amenities can only add to the vibrancy of North Amherst.

Beacon Communities is still in the planning stages and will no doubt do community outreach before any shovels hit the dirt.

Mill District is within easy walking distance of North Amherst center

Jones Library Jumping Through Hoops

Amherst's "living room" wishes to expand by about 40%

The Jones Library will need to negotiate a pair of hurdles at the upcoming Town Meeting, one of them a tad more sizable than the other because it requires a two-thirds vote: In order to buy adjacent property from the Strong House History Museum, a zoning change from Residential to Business is required otherwise the Strong House becomes "non conforming".

 Land behind the Jones Library and to east side of Strong House needed for expansion

And Amherst frowns on anything non conforming.

The other interconnected problem is the property that the Library hopes to build on currently hosts the Kinsey Memorial Garden and the Strong House History Garden, both considered jewels in an emerald necklace of badly needed downtown greenery.

A citizens petition article #39 to Town Meeting calls upon the Library not to touch the Kinsey Memorial Garden. That will only require a simple majority vote to pass, although it is non-binding.

But it will however -- if passed -- cast doubt on the viability of article #43, the needed zoning change for the Strong House (last article on a l-o-n-g warrant).

Click to enlarge/read

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Charter Question Passes! (Again)

 In 2001 with a 17% turnout Amherst voted to support a Charter Commission by 63%

By a comfortable -- some would say crushing-- margin of 2039 Yes to 1,340 No the voters of Amherst have spoken, and it's clear they wish to see change in the current antiquated form of government.

And since opponents of the Charter Question chose to make it entirely about Town Meeting using the moniker,  "Town Meeting Works" , it's a pretty good bet the message voters just sent is, "Town Meeting doesn't work."

The 9-member Charter Commission will meet April 5th at 6:30 PM to organize themselves by voting a Chair, Vice Chair, and Clerk.  Then the work really begins.

Turnout for 2016 election was 17.75% with 60% approving Charter

And the winners are:

 Two-thirds of the 'Amherst For Change' slate won

Celebration at The Pub 
Vince O'Connor was thrashed by 2-1 by both opponents

Vince O'Connor was the biggest individual loser of the election and School Committee member Vira Douangmany Cage by strongly endorsing him on her Facebook page also caused damage to her campaign for the state legislature.

The Town Meeting form of government also took a thrashing at the polls in Framingham, as voters there by a whopping four-to-one-margin (4099 to 886) favored forming a Charter Commission.

Ah, progress.

 Long time Town Meeting members Irwin & Martha Spiegelman failed to get reelected.  She was on the 2001 Charter Commission and filed a "minority report" opposing the Mayor/Council/Manager government they came up with and was supported 7-2
Charter proposal that failed by 14 votes in 2003 and 252 votes in 2005

DUI Dishonor Roll

In 2014 three times as many males were arrested for drunk driving as females

No matter who wins the all important election today, I hope everyone will celebrate responsibly.  Or drown out their sorrows responsibly as the case may be.

 Charles Allard, age 20, stands before Judge Thomas Estes 

Having APD come knocking on your driver side wide window with their flashing blue lights reflecting in your rear view mirror, is no way to end the evening.

Like these two college aged youth, who overdid it over the weekend and made the major mistake of getting behind the wheel of a car.

Both college aged youth had their cases continued until 4/14 so they could hire their own attorney.

But since both took the legally admissible breath test they should save their money and take the standard state offered 24D disposition (Continued Without A Finding):  loss of license for 45 days, one year probation and completion of alcohol driver course.

Cost of a standard 24D disposition

Jason Moriarty, age 22, stands before Judge Thomas Estes
Click to enlarge/read

And So It Begins

Crocker Farm Elementary School:  Precinct 7

So far (9:30 AM) voter turn out is pretty light.

Already reports of campaign signs too close to the voting booths (must be 150 feet away) but they were gone when I just drove by.

Eleven years ago the Town Clerk had to call police because she felt threatened after ordering a pro Town Meeting sign removed that was hanging from a private residence at Ann Whalen Apartments, but was too close to the voting booth.

 Turnout still light at Bangs Center as of high noon (Precincts 4,5, and 10)
So let's hope we get at least 2,000 voters to break double digit turnout
UPDATE: 7:00 PM Sounds like voting picked up and a few precincts have now hit double digit turnout.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Echos Of A Distant Battle

March 29 election could have best annual election voter turn out in 11 years

When I realized today's local election was on the same date as 11 years ago when the Mayor/Council/Manager government failed for the 2nd time I started getting that deja vu vibe, which grew more overpowering with the controversy that arose yesterday over the School Committee race.

Rereading all the emails that ricocheted around the Internet leading up to epic showdown only reminded me how much work went into the effort -- collecting the thousands of signatures, the more than 50 meetings of the Charter Commission over a year-and-a-half, and the public relations campaign to support passage of the new form of government.

While I'm confident the Charter Question will pass handily tomorrow I was also pretty confident this time eleven years ago that the new government proposed by that Charter Commission would pass, which obviously it did not. 

If the Charter question does not pass tomorrow, abandon hope all ye who enter here.


Bev & Stan Durnakowski (SnBDurn) and I formed our own political action committee "Mayor Council Yes" since we were unhappy with the Charter Commission for choosing not to go with a Mayor/Council (voting 5-4 against it) and eventually coming up with a Mayor/Council/Manager.

In other words, we kind of held our noses and worked for passage, figuring it was still w-a-y better than our current Town Meeting form of government.

The regular pro-Charter folks formed "Charter Now", which we jokingly referred to as the "Charterista's."  And the opposition formed "" as they have done again in the current campaign.

Jim Pitts was Vice Chair of the Charter Commission and strongly believed in the strong Mayor/Council model that was narrowly rejected by the Commission. His 3/30/05 memo to Bev and Stan the day after the defeat moved me to tears.  


Proposed Charter lost April 1, 2003 by 14 votes and by 252 votes on March 29, 2005.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bullet Vote?

Vince O'Connor at a recent School Committee meeting

Yes it makes plenty of sense to tell your followers to use only one of their allotted votes in a race where two seats are open and three candidates are running as we now have in the only town wide contest on the March 29 ballot, School Committee.

But it's also considered a tad improper, since the ballot clearly says "vote for not more than two."  In other words, cast two votes.

The term is "bullet vote" and it's usually a tactic that's advertised via email, phone, or private message.  So I was a little surprised a sitting School Committee member and candidate for the state legislature would come right out and endorse the tactic on her public Facebook page.

Click to enlarge/read

In fact I find it kind of surprising a School Committee member would take a public stand on candidates at all, since she will be working with two of them in the very near future and it could very well be the two she told her supporters NOT to vote for.

As for me I advise the exact opposite:  Vote anyone but Vince for School Committee (Kent & Ordonez) and -- more important -- Hell YES to the only question on the bottom of the ballot:  "Shall a commission be elected to frame a charter for Amherst?"

Friday, March 25, 2016


Graves immediately adjacent to Dickinson family plot

On my usual walk through Amherst town center I was chagrined to find these two toppled gravestones that probably could cast a shadow on the Dickinson family plot if the sun were out and they were still standing.

So I stopped at Town Hall on the way home to show the damage to local historian & Senior Town Planner Jonathan Tucker, and he confirmed this was recent damage.

Which of course reminded me of my Facebook photo quick update a couple days ago of the perimeter fence at the Emily Dickinson Homestead that was also most recently pushed over in the same manner.

 Damage occurred sometime late Tuesday into Wednesday early morning

Amherst police responded to West Cemetery last weekend for reports of homeless folks using it as their personal playground/bar and leaving behind a major mess that had to be cleaned up by the DPW.

This is getting out of hand.

UPDATE (Sunday afternoon):

 AFD & APD on scene West Cemetery after reports of "2 homeless men sleeping on Emily Dickinson's grave." One transported to CDH the other moved along

Town Meeting: War & Peace?

257th Annual Town Meeting 2015:  30 articles (8 of them citizens petitions), 8 sessions

With 44 articles scheduled as of last night, get ready for a l-o-n-g -- possibly record breaking -- Annual Town Meeting, which starts May 2nd.

Click to enlarge/read

Maybe not #1 for number of articles over the last 10 years, as that distinction goes to 2008 with 47 articles.  And not even #2 since 2013 had 45.  But a solid, above average,  #3.

Over the past ten years the average number of articles on the warrant comes to 37, with the average number of sessions required to deal with that clocking in at 9 sessions.

In other words nine full nights for 150 or so Town Meeting members who bother to show up and a dozen or more town employees who pretty much have to show up.

But the BIG difference is in 2008 only five of the 47 articles were "citizens petitions" and in 2013 eight of the 45 articles fit that category.

This upcoming Town Meeting will have, ugh, a very unlucky 13.

 General Petition = "Citizens Petition"

And the problem with citizens petitions is they are usually put on the warrant (with only 10 signatures required) by do-gooders who wish to pontificate for as l-o-n-g as possible in front of the microphone.

God help us.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Library Expansion Preliminary Cost

Jones Library 48,000 square feet about half of it original and historic

The Jones Library Design Subcommittee heard a presentation this morning from their architects Finegold Alexander about the preliminary -- and everybody was careful to accent "preliminary" -- plans for the expansion/renovation of the current 48,000 square foot facility that dominates the western part of downtown.

Jones Library Design Subcommittee (10 people were in the audience concerned about gardens in back where expansion will go)

The "dream vision" would have been 110,000 square feet (more than doubling in size) and cost $53.8 million, the cheapest alternative of renovation only for existing facility came to $20 million, and the "sweet spot" in between -- and highly favored design concept -- of a 65,000 square foot building came to $31.9 million.

 Wider purple to rear indicates expansion footprint if Strong House property involved

That concept (Option 2) does require the purchase of property from the Strong House History Museum next door, and that price does not reflect whatever that cost will be if Town Meeting approves a needed zoning change to allow the land deal.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, who suggested a 75,000 square foot target, will cover 41% of the eligible costs which the architects  calculated at $12 million, thus the town share comes to $19.7 million.

Earlier this week in a presentation to the Select Board, a new DPW facility concept  was unveiled at a "preliminary" cost of $37 million. 

And a couple months ago the Wildwood School Building Committee chose a "preliminary" design for a new elementary school that combines two schools in one for a total cost of $65 million, with town share coming to $30 million or so.

Nothing concrete concerning the new South Fire Station however, although it gets lots of lip service.

AFD Central Station, built 1929, is embarrassingly cramped

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Up In Smoke

Last February

About a year after the Amherst Board of Health increased the legal age to purchase tobacco products in town from 18 up to 21, the Wild Side Smoke shop in town center is no more.   Becoming just another empty downtown storefront.

 This morning

At least this one we can't blame on the stellar UMass food service program, which seems to keep students on campus and away from our downtown restaurants.  

 Branch on College Street is still open

Zoning Ping Pong

Strong House (left) Jones Library (center)
Proposed property sale (red box)

Last week Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry and Selectman Jim Wald went before the Planning Board just to give them a heads up about a rezoning of the Strong House History Museum from  (R-G) Residential to (B-G) Business.

 Jim Wald and Sharon Sharry appear before Amherst Planning Board last week

This would allow the less than affluent History Museum to sell side and back property to the Jones Library for their expansion/renovation.  Without the zoning change they could not sell any of their property because it would leave their facility "non conforming" according to residential zoning code.

On Monday night the Select Board briefly discussed the issue and heard that a "covenant" could become part of the article to ensure the property does not someday sell to another entity and become some other commercial enterprise.

Connie Kruger was concerned that would simply "muddy the water" and she pointed out the real problem is some people do not want the Jones Library to expand.  And a zoning article does require a challenging two-thirds vote of Town Meeting to pass.

 Jones Library is an economic engine for the downtown

A Jones Library representative is now scheduled to appear at the April 4 Select Board meeting to request the zoning issue be placed on the warrant.  The Select Board is signing the warrant that night but there's still time to add this article with a simple majority vote.

Since Town Meeting does not start until May 2 that allows enough time for the Planning Board to call a state mandated public hearing on the matter and issue their recommendation/report.

Then all it has to do is survive that zoning gauntlet know as Town Meeting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

DUI Dishonor Roll

Rocky Hill Road, Hadley 8:50 PM Sunday (Hadley PD Facebook)

Yes everybody deserves a second chance -- especially when it comes to substance abuse.

 Jocelyn Brick, 27, stands before Judge Thomas Estes in Eastern Hampshire District Court

But the sympathy quota goes down dramatically after that second screw up -- especially when it happens at a normal family hour when plenty of innocent drivers are on the road.

 Click to enlarge/read (note Portable Breath Test almost twice legal limit)

Fortunately it will be a l-o-n-g time before Ms. Brick gets behind the wheel of a car again as the automatic license suspension for refusing the Breath Test on a second offense DUI arrest is three years.

She was released on her personal recognizance and returns to District Court April 24 with her private (no doubt expensive) attorney.

Let The Battle Begin!

All three Charter Ballot Questions have passed over the past 20 years

Like worms after a spring rain, lawn signs will be springing up all over town this week.  A few for the only contested townwide position -- School Committee -- but mostly for the most hotly contested issue of the year:  ditching our current old fashioned amateur form of government.

Well, electing a 9-member Charter Commission to discuss it anyway and return to the voters with whatever proposal they create.

 Anyone but Vince

 What are they afraid of?