Monday, October 31, 2016

Drug Rip Off Gone Bad

Patrick Bemben was knocked out by the residents of the house he invaded
Patrick Bemben intake photo courtesy APD

So not overly surprising but no less shocking, the home invasion hatchet incident from late Saturday night on South East Street turned out to be a drug raid gone wrong.  And no, not a planned police drug raid but four would be Ninjas who wanted to rip off the alleged drug dealers.

In Eastern Hamsphire District Court today Judge Thomas Estes upheld the Commonwealth's request Patrick Bemben, age 25, be designated too dangerous to release on bail.

Even though his parents and girlfriend were in attendance the Judge agreed with ADA Bob Opsitnik and Mr. Bemben will be held in jail until his trial.

Play Ball!

Potwine Lane Fields Saturday:  No soccer for you!

Saturday was a local sports lovers delight as UMass and Amherst College played home football games and amazingly UMass won while Amherst College lost (probably due to bad karma from "taking a knee" during the national anthem a while back),

Amherst College lost

The premier town soccer fields at Potwine Lane in South Amherst however, were all dressed up with nowhere to go as the Saturday games were rescheduled to other fields because neighbors continue to have problems with traffic on game day.

UMass won (must have been the flag)

Considering the town spent $500,000 in Community Preservation Funds to develop the "soccer fields" ten years ago you have to wonder if the CPA committee might ask for our tax money back if the utilization is cut back to keep the NIMBYs happy.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Scary Saturday

Townehouse Apartments East Quad 4:30 PM Saturday
Townehouse Quad Sunday morning

In addition to dealing with the usual large exuberant crowd gathered at Townhouse Apartments quad area, drunk drivers, noise complaints and fist fights Amherst police and Massachusetts State Police also investigated a hatchet assault on South East Street that required AFD transport to Baystate critical care unit in Springfield.

 Very large police presence on S. East Street since 1:00 AM

Chief Livingstone confirms an arrest was made (Patrick Bemben) and that eerily similar to the shooting death two weeks ago at Southpoint Apartments this was not a random act of violence, so the neighborhood need net be concerned about their security.

DA statement (Click to enlarge/read)
The rented house seemed to be specifically targeted by the four perps who were dressed in all black, used walkie talkies to communicate with one another and were armed with a hatchet and knife.  

Police spent hours looking for the other attackers using the MSP Air Wing and a K9 unit.  AFD also  used one of their thermal imaging cameras to search the wooded area.

MSP Air 1

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sayonara CAC

Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Select Board member Andy Steinberg attended final CAC meeting this Friday morning

After 36 public meetings, 7 private negotiation sessions, 2 public forums and countless hours reading draft after draft of a complicated contract the Cable Advisory Committee voted unanimously this morning to dissolve.

But like a phoenix (or zombie) they will revive in about eight years when the ten year contract with Comcast is a couple years shy of expiring.

Chair Dee Shabazz thanked her fellow committee members saying she could not have lasted this long as Chair without them, especially in light of the "negativity" of Comcast.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman followed up saying, "You were a stabilizing force over the course of four Town Managers."

Steinberg thanked them on behalf of the entire Select Board saying he now, "Really regrets we didn’t get more involved earlier.  But we were busy hiring a new Town Manager.  Amherst did however get extraordinary amount of capital ($1.125 million), more so than any other municipality in the state."

Negotiations are done with Comcast but now the town will negotiate a new ten year contract with Amherst Media who normally gets the entire 5% cut of revenues annually (about $300,000) as well as the one time capital amount ($1.125 million).

The stickler this time around will be the iNet, which the town relies on for all its data, phones, Internet and therefor is a benefit to every taxpayer in town rather than just the cable subscribers who benefit by it for their cable TV.

Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer made it clear the town would be keeping some of that $1.125 million in order to build a new iNet, which Comcast says we have to do within three years.  Early projections for that cost are in the $200,000 range.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ten Year High

The Special Town Meeting starting November 14 has 23 articles on the warrant -- the most in ten years -- including controversial zoning articles and of course the $66,339,000 debt exclusion for the new Mega School.  Zoning and Debt Exclusion require a challenging two-thirds vote to pass.

Thus it's a pretty safe bet the number of cold dark nights 150 or so Town Meeting members will have to trudge to the Middle School Auditorium will be in the neighborhood of 5 (as it was in 2007 with a 20 article warrant).

Jerry Guidera's three zoning articles to make it reasonably easier to do commercial development on the immediate outskirts of the downtown will bring out the NIMBY crowds in full force.

And the Planning Board's attempt yet again at "Inclusionary Zoning" -- requiring larger housing developments to have 10% of the units affordable -- will also be controversial as some view it as anti business and others think it's not anti business enough.

The Fire Station $75,000 for phase 1 feasibility and site selection should fly through as the average age of Town Meeting is ancient and therefor they understand how vital AFD is for Emergency Medical Services (as well as fires of course).

But the $350,000 for phase 2 of the new DPW building schematic design and construction cost estimate will certainly not get the same smooth sailing, especially if the Mega School mega million debt exclusion passes earlier in Town Meeting.

With the Charter Commission starting to align Town Meeting in the crosshairs for possible extinction at least members will be on their best behavior (which is not saying much.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Party House of the Weekend

35 Tamarack Drive

Fortunately it has been a while since we had one of these.

The new "Off Campus Party Registration" joint program between UMass and APD has been very successful, but obviously it's the party hardy nitwits who don't bother to register their events and don't respond to police when they come knocking on the front door who need an attitude adjustment.

 Leonard Schwartz, age 24, arraigned before Judge Estes

Click to enlarge/read

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Mr. Schwartz showed a little more cooperation with the DA's office than he did with APD and took a plea deal where he will pay the town's $300 nuisance ordinance and promised to be a good boy over the next four months.

Early Success (Voting That Is)

Congressman John Olver is a tad tall for the early voting booths

As of 11:35 AM today 986 Amherst registered voters out of 22,257, have taken advantage of the state's brand spanking new "early voting." 

On Monday night Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Select Board 300 voters did their civic duty on Monday, the first day of the program.  But the challenge would be Tuesday as both Town Hall and UMass Campus Center would host early voting.

Well the results are in and Tuesday went smoothly with a little less than 300 voting in Town Hall and 280 UMass students voting in the Campus Center (although with fewer hours of operation).

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess speculates that if things continue to go at this rate between 15 and 20% of Amherst voters could cast their ballots prior to November 8th. 

Treading Water

Town Manager Paul Bockelman

Town Manager Paul Bockelman gave the Select Board a drought update on Monday and the report was pretty much nothing new.

Our wells, which draw from groundwater, are doing their job.

The state is requesting all water bans stay in effect at least through the end of October.

Atkins Reservoir still only 37.5% of capacity
Quabbin Reservoir October 25,  82.5% of capacity

Atkins Reservoir, shut down since 9/21, is being "slow to respond" with water levels still down nine feet and 75 million gallons remaining out of 200 million when full.

Demand is still below average at just under 3 million gallons per day.

The water crisis has focused attention on water usage and the town is considering ways to give economic incentives for those who may conserve a tad more than their neighbor.  Currently everyone pays the same rate no matter how great or small the usage.

At one time the town did have a rate differential where higher volume users were charged a little more.  Interestingly the cut off for usage to fall into that catagory was so high it only impacted UMass/AMHERST.

1996 three year Strategic Agreement (Click to enlarge/read)

And they were unhappy about that so in the three year 1996 Strategic Agreement inserted a guarantee to keep it to 20 cents (the town was considering raising the differential) and then somewhere between the 1999 renewal and 2007 bump to a 5 year Strategic Agreement the differential was nixed altogether.

Just one of the many ways UMass steamrolled the town in those "Strategic Agreements".

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Drunk Meter Report

AFD has 5 ambulances but rarely enough on duty to staff all five

While things were somewhat slow for emergency responses to UMass/AMHERST over "family weekend" (the benefit of parents on scene no doubt) the ratio of drunk runs is still well over my target goal of 50%.

Four-out-of-five EMS runs to UMass were for ETOH, or a drunk scale of 80%.

Of course Amherst College was worse at 100% but we're only talking one transport and Hampshire College was zero percent but again only talking one transport.

Let's hope it rains this coming Halloween weekend.   

DUI Double Dishonor Roll

One way of guaranteeing a quick arrest for drunk driving is to crash your vehicle into a police cruiser, dead in the center of town no less. 

 Keith Cotnoir, 23, arraigned before Judge Thomas Estes
Click to enlarge/read

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Keith Cotnoir, age 23, instantly took a 24D disposition at his private attorney's advice.  So he will be off the road for next 45 days and out a fair amount of cash.

Cost of a standard 24D disposition

Timely Legislative Breakfast

The stately Lord Jeff Inn, Amherst Town Common (at least until Amherst College renames it)

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting their annual networking breakfast of heavy hitters -- aka state & local legislators and business leaders -- at the Lord Jeff Inn this Thursday morning 7:15 AM to 9:00 AM to discuss public policy issues.

What better timing than a couple weeks before the epic November 8th election where federal, state and local issues will be voted on in perhaps the best local turnout in history.

Representatives Susannah Whipps Lee,  John Scibak and Ellen Story will be on hand as well as Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who recently endorsed a yes vote on the recreational marijuana ballot question.

But no, pot brownies are not on the menu.

Asian Invasion

Formosa reopening at Amherst Chinese location 62 Main Street

Three new Asian restaurants will be opening (or reopening) by the first of the year helping to maintain Amherst's downtown reputation as a destination spot for fine cuisine.

Last night the Select Board approved an all alcohol license for a Steam Seafood Japanese Restaurant opening in the former location of All Things Local.

The Select Board grilled attorney Tom Reidy over two liquor law violations the company had at their Longmeadow location three years ago but ended up unanimously supporting issuing the $3,500 license.
Attorney Tom Reidy being grilled (or steamed) by Amherst Select Board

Of course it would have looked a little odd if they rejected the petitioner over that since they cut such slack to Panda East over the past year.  

 Ichiban is Japanese for "number one"

Property owner Barry Roberts told the board an industrial strength dehumidifier is being installed in the 3,750 square foot location to handle the steam given off by the electrical steam pots that will be used at every table.

A short while later the Select Board unanimously approved a Common Victualler licene for LiLi's Chinese Restaurant opening in the former location of Baku's African Restaurant at 197 North Pleasant Street.

 Baku's closed last month after 11 years in operation

Monday, October 24, 2016

Black Lives Still Matter

For the second time this year the Black Lives Matter banner went up over South Pleasant Street, the gateway to the heart of downtown.

Although this time, unlike 7 months ago, there was no fanfare whatsoever.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fireground: Fearing Street

AFD quickly snuffed out the fire with an interior attack

A box alarm for a kitchen stove fire called in around 8:00 this Sunday morning brought all hands on deck response from AFD and APD, but the fire was quickly extinguished.

While stove fires (and chimney fires) may seem to be innocuous it's not unusual for the beast to break out of those confines and wreak havoc on the rest of the structure.

And that was the case here as the fire extended into the walls and ceiling, but was not allowed to go any further.

AFD was also mindful of their water usage and told Dispatch to inform the water department they would not be using all that much.

 Click to enlarge/read

Engines 1 & 2 and Ladder 1 were on the scene
Putting the hoses away (for now)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Not A Threat

The answer to bad speech is more good speech, not censorship

As an unabashed defender of the First Amendment I bristle at even the hint of government intrusion into the marketplace of free ideas, even when those ideas are upsetting or obnoxious.

Speech that makes you comfortable is not what needs protection.  And it would be impossible for firebrands like me to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" when my speech is regulated by boorish bureaucrats.

So when more than a few people sent me the link about UMass having a "threat meter" for  costumes which would pretty much lead to a bland Halloween -- and I always look forward to scantily clad young women dressed up as Indians, err, Native American  -- I took notice.

But I also remembered UMass allowed the nitwit Westboro Baptist Church to freely demonstrated their bigotry on campus a few years ago.  So I was also a tad skeptical of this latest brew ha ha -- especially when Campus Reform said they ran with it prior to a UMass spokesperson responding.

My favorite UMass spokesperson, however, did respond.

From: Larry Kelley <>
Sent: Friday, October 21, 2016 8:48 AM
Subject: Halloween
To: Nancy Buffone <>

Hey Nancy,

So I'm always a tad skeptical when these stories first break wondering if perhaps they belong on Snopes.

Is this a University wide program?  (I'm surprised there's no mention of clown outfits.)

Is the University taking any special measures for Halloween weekend like limiting guests, parking, etc?



From: Nancy Buffone <>
To: Larry Kelley <>
Sent: Fri, Oct 21, 2016 10:45 am
Subject: Re: Halloween


The campus has been planning for Halloween and has communicated guest restrictions on the residential halls to our studends. There is information on line at:

As far as the posters go, here's a statement from the News Office:

University of Massachusetts Amherst statement on Halloween costumes
As part of the university’s continuing efforts to foster an inclusive and supportive living environment for all students, resident assistants at UMass Amherst this month created bulletin boards communicating those values and explaining how some Halloween costumes may be offensive to others. The guidelines used to create the bulletin boards are intended to educate students about cultural appropriation and help them make informed choices about costumes. UMass Amherst does not prohibit or ban any costumes.
In one residence hall, a “threat level flow chart” for choosing a Halloween costume was posted on a bulletin board. It is not part of the recommended educational materials that RAs were advised to display, but rather was downloaded from the Internet and was posted by a well-intentioned student staff member. The chart has been removed from the bulletin board.


Nancy Buffone
Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations

Thursday, October 20, 2016

If You Zone It ...

South Prospect Street

The Planning Board approved 1.5 of 3 petition articles all seeking to change zoning from limited business (BL) to general business (BG) on the outskirts of the downtown to encourage the development of mixed use buildings which would bring more employees and residents to the downtown while paying significantly higher property taxes.

Currently the Amherst property tax base is made up of 90% residential and only 10% commercial.  

The change to BG zoning would allow for denser development, aka taller five story buildings, with greater lot coverage, giving developers an incentive to put their property to a higher and better use.

 Triangle and Cottage Streets

The Planning Board unanimously voted not to approve the zoning change for the east side of Triangle Street because they were worried about the mostly owner occupied homes along Cottage Street.

But they did approve the change on the east side of South Prospect Street and about half of the requested change along North Pleasant Street but only for properties on the south side of Hallock Street.

These parcels are of course that much closer to the heart of the downtown and just last month the Planning Board approved Special Permits for 236 North Pleasant that allows developers Barry Roberts and Curt Shumway to have one addition floor, going from three to four.

West side  North Pleasant Street from Cowls Lane down to Hallock but not north of there

The Historical Commission enacted a one year delay back in January on the project so it would be kind of ironic if that delay ends up benefiting the local developers should the zoning change -- which requires a two thirds Town Meeting vote -- passes.

The zoning article petitioner, Jerry Guidera, confirmed he will trim back that particular article to only include the properties south of Hallock Street, but will continue to move forward with the Triangle Street rezoning in spite of the unanimous vote against it by the Planning Board.

And considering how Town Meeting often does just the opposite of Planning Board recommendations, that may not be such a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wicked Wonderful Wednesday

Off to a good start
Deep South Amherst
I see that train a hiding
Our favorite Flagship
Town center
Critters next door
Bucolic Belchertown
University Drive
The Evergreens
Miss Emily's 
Red, white and black