Thursday, June 30, 2016

Seeking Solutions

APD arresting intoxicated homeless man at CVS for trespassing this afternoon

In addition to being a danger to themselves homeless people suffering from substance abuse tie up our first responders, making them unavailable for a more serious need -- not that intoxication or drug O.D. is not a medical emergency.  

 Yesterday AFD had to treat a 62-year-old man at APD HQ who was assaulted by a homeless man

When APD makes an arrest for trespassing, disorderly conduct or assault and battery it only takes the arresting officer out of action for a short while.

But when AFD has to transport to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, which happens all too frequently, those two firefighters are out of service for an hour.

And these days we only have 7 total on duty.

Friday morning 6:00 AM

Last Minute Development Tweak

One East Pleasant within close proximity of (5 story) Kendrick Place (top right)

 Carriage shops sold to Archipelago for $4.6 million and will soon be demolished

Archipelago Investments who brought us a bunch of five story places -- Kendrick Place, Boltwood Place, Olympia Place -- have a (sort of) do over Special Permit request going before the Planning Board later next month.

 Boltwood Place, town center
Olympia Place near UMass

Essentially it's only a tweak as they are not asking for any real physical changes in height or coverage for their proposed One East Pleasant Street, but simply a reshuffling of units in the building as well as an increase in green space.

Click to enlarge/read

If Vince O'Connor's zoning article mandating 10% affordable units for any project requiring even the slightest use of a Special Permit had passed Town Meeting last month this current proposal would have been impacted, thereby requiring ten of the 135 units be "affordable."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gothic Renewal

32 North Prospect Street, Amherst town center

It will be interesting to see if the usual NIMBY suspects turn out for the June 30th  Zoning Board of Appeals Special Permit hearing on 32 North Prospect Street, located in a residential neighborhood, but about as close as you can get to being in the actual downtown.

The historic beauty is currently owned by the legendary Hastings family, who founded A.J. Hastings, Inc in town center over 100 years ago.

 A.J. Hastings, Inc  45 South Pleasant Street, town center

 Click to enlarge/read

The proposed project would leave the beautiful building intact although doubling occupancy to two dwelling units (currently the house is a "one family" unit); and perhaps more controversial, constructing a new 4,700 square foot two-story structure out back housing an additional four dwelling units.

Thus the town gains an additional five units of badly needed housing within (sleep) walking distance of the downtown business core, which will directly benefit A.J. Hastings, Inc and all our starving restaurants.

And the sacred "Master Plan" that everyone seems to love quoting does call for this exact type of infill. The Design Review Board and Historical Commission have already supported the project.

Parking: Reality vs Perception

Amherst downtown core is a five minute walk end to end

With four major municipal building projects costing over $100 million in town money looming on the immediate horizon the likelihood of adding a new parking garage to that expensive short list is pretty close to zero.

 Downtown Parking Working Group

Especially after yesterday's presentation to the new Downtown Parking Working Group by Nelson/Nygaard consultants Jason Schrieber and Liza Cohen.   Their recent study showed peak demand never absorbs more than two-thirds of total parking available (within 10 minute walk) although that includes private parking lots.

Jason Schrieber and Liza Cohen

And the $40,000 study also concluded overall demand has remain essentially unchanged since the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission parking study in 2008, which also found plenty of parking available, but just not at the right time when consumers prefer it.

This is not the entire presentation

When asked about a new garage after their 40 minute presentation Schrieber responded "The reality is you have plenty of parking spaces."

And he pointed out that a garage is very expensive with no state funding available these days so you have to charge a minimum of $1 per hour to cover the capital costs, which scares away customers.

CVS side of lot was full at 1:30 PM but only 3 customers in store
CVS portion of lot on right

Other cheaper solutions are to work out deals with private owners to share parking.  For instance the town could start a pilot program with CVS for their parking lot, which is contiguous with a town lot.

By allowing free parking for the first hour or two it would take care of any potential CVS shopper and more than double the amount of parking available to them.

 Amity Street lot is currently off line for renovations

The CVS lot has also been talked about as the location for a new parking garage, but besides the high cost that would require a zoning change and the Boltwood Parking Garage was a bitter enough battle in Town Meeting 20 years ago, resulting in too small a structure.

 Tiny Boltwood Garage was built with possible expansion in mind
Click to enlarge/read

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

There He Goes Yet Again

Luke Vincent Gatti arrested May 28th, 2016

Not surprisingly Luke Gatti, aka the infamous UConn Mac & Cheese kid, who got his start with alcohol fueled mayhem at UMass Amherst, has been arrested yet again.  This time in sunny Florida.

In our little college town Mr. Gatti was arrested twice within three weeks on infamous Phillips Street:

Click to enlarge/read
Page 2 continues:  "a temper tantrum like behavior.  Mr. Gatti then clenched his hands and held his arms in a defiant manner consistent with an agitated state.  He was arrested for Disorderly Conduct."

 Click to enlarge/read

And yes -- in the interests of being fair and balanced -- I did reach out back then to young Gatti for comment:

Maybe now his dad will stop bailing him out, and get him the help he so obviously needs.

Luke V. Gatti (center) and father (right) appear before Judge John Payne September 15, 2014

Story is already going viral hours after I first posted

Monday, June 27, 2016

(Ice)Berg Strikes

Helen Berg

Amherst police arrested Helen Berg over the weekend for Domestic Assault & Battery and A&B with a dangerous weapon (shod foot) after she allegedly kicked a drink out of the victim's hand and then kicked him in the head.

 Click to enlarge/read.  Her case was continued to July 15th

The alleged victim did not wish to press charges or take out a 209A restraining order, but since he called 911/Dispatch, which is a recorded line, to request police assistance during the assault the Commonwealth can proceed on their own with a criminal complaint.

Ms. Berg was a candidate for Select Board in 2014 when two seats were open but came in a distant third.  She threatened a lawsuit against the town for not placing her name (higher) on the ballot alphabetically, but it was later confirmed the town was granted state legislature approval to use the random drawing -names-out-of-a-hat method.

A few months ago Ms. Berg handed in nomination papers to again run for Select Board but the Town Clerk disqualified 16 signatures so she fell two short of the 50 required to get on the ballot.

Helen Berg is currently an Amherst Town Meeting member representing Precinct 1.  Her term expires in 2019, although Town Meeting may be terminated by then should the Amherst Charter Commission propose and the voters approve a new form of local government. 

The Few, The Proud

Heart of downtown this morning

I always love it when the DPW "forgets" to retrieve all the commemorative flags after one of the few holidays they are allowed to fly in the downtown.  In this particular case, Flag Day.

And by the weathered looks of it one of the original 29 commemorative flags purchased in the late summer of 2001.  Then Veterans Agent Rod Raubeson had put in a capital request to acquire the flags as part of his commemoration budget and it passed Town Meeting without comment.

But after he put them up in mid-August on a beautiful day much like today to test the apparatus, he decided to leave them up.  At that point some people complained.  Bitterly.

The illustrious Amherst Select Board, keepers of the public way, met to discuss the matter at their ever so routine Monday night meeting September 10th, 2001. 

The next morning routine went out the window.  Forever.

On August 31, after 14 years of stubborn refusal, the Select Board voted to allow the commemorative flags to fly annually on 9/11, although of the original 29 flags many have been lost or stolen.

Maybe I'll take up a collection ...

Patriotic UMass construction contractor

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunny Sunday Over A College Town

UMass Design Building looking west

Since the largest landowners in Amherst are our tax exempt educational institutes with Amherst College #1, UMass #2 and Hampshire College #3,  it's no big surprise that most of the current construction projects are taking place there.

 Amherst College Greenway Dorms
Amherst College new Science Center

But all these new buildings will be protected by Amherst Fire Department, and they have been at the understaffed breaking point for far too many years now.

Crotty Hall from North Plasant Street
 Crotty Hall from the side
UMass Physical Sciences Building
Hitchcock Center new living building on Hampshire College campus
However there is some (housing development) taking place that will go on the tax rolls:

 Olympia Place five story luxurious dorms built by private developer
Unlike Townehouse Apartments, courtyards are tiny
Not going to fit 1,000 plus in there

Townehouse Apartments  west quad April 24th

Hawthorne Farm  affordable duplex

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Show Me The Money!

Only the Select Board can place an Override on the ballot
Amherst Select Board  June 20th

The Amherst Select Board heard a presentation/update from school officials concerning the proposed $65+ million Mega School on Monday night but had very little to say about it.

Interestingly in the packet of material presented to them a timeline which appeared to be chronological showed the Override question being put to the people before Town Meeting.

 Click to enlarge/read

Naturally I asked about that and Chair Alisa Brewer was a tad vague saying since it was "To Be Determined" those two items were not necessarily in chronological order like those ten items preceding them.

Although she not overly convincing.

The way it has worked in the past Town Meeting by a two-thirds vote approves an Override and then it goes to the people, where about half the time they have failed.  Only once (March 30, 2004) has an Override -- for the schools naturally -- been presented to the voters prior to Town Meeting approval.

 Annual Town Report 2005

While that one was successful a higher amount put on the same ballot (called a "pyramid override") failed.

Only once has the Select Board agreed to place an Override on the ballot after Town Meeting failed to muster a two-thirds vote of support.  And that new elementary school Override failed badly.  

The advantage of going to "the people" first is the Override question only requires a simple majority vote.  With that in hand it should be easy to convince Town Meeting to then support it by the two-thirds needed.

Especially now with Town Meeting possibly being legislated out of existence by a Charter Commission report that could (and hopefully will) come back with a Mayor/Council form of government.

And Town Meeting would probably have a hard time convincing voters they best represent them if they should not uphold an Override vote of "the people."

Especially since that Override will be on the November 8th Presidentail ballot which will see a 75% to 80% turnout in Amherst compared to the 10-15% pathetic turnout we usually get for a municipal election in the Spring.

But if Town Meeting does turn down the Override when they meet in mid-Novermber even if voters approved it by majority vote on November 8th, school supporters would then have 5 business days to collect the signitures of 5% of the registered voters to "referendum" the action of Town Meeting.

Which may not be all that easy since the active voters will be at an all time high (last Presidential election the Town Clerk reports 7,000 new voters signed up prior to the election).

Even then that ballot question would require a two-thirds vote of the people to overturn Town Meeting.  Additionally it requires a minimum turnout of 18% of the voters, something that rarely happens with a local election.

As my Chinese friends would say, "May you live in interesting times."