REPORT: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (9/23/19)

Amherst Town Council Meeting, Town Room, Town Hall, Amherst. Photo: Maura Keene

All councilors were present.

Documents associated with this meeting can be found here

Highlights

  • Public forum on Centennial Water Treatment Plant replacement 
  • Public forum on purchase of Hickory Ridge Golf Course
  • Report of downtown traffic study
  • Report on Writers’ Walk signs
  • Approval of Town Manager’s appointments to multi-member bodies
  • Posting of statements from candidates for town office
  • Replacement of front door at Town Hall

The council meeting of September 23 was divided into three parts. The first was a public forum required to discuss the request for supplemental funds to upgrade the Centennial Water Treatment Plant in Pelham and to acquire the Hickory Ridge Golf course.. Funds for these projects were not included in the 2020 budget.  The regular council meeting followed, and then there was an executive session to approve minutes of previous executive sessions.

Centennial Water Treatment Plant

Guildford Mooring, Department of Public Works Director, gave a presentation on the need for replacement of the Centennial Water Treatment plant which processes water from the Pelham Reservoir.  The plant is currently off-line due to damage from a lightning strike and repair is not possible as necessary parts are not available. New equipment will not fit in the existing building so a new building must be built to ensure continued access to this water source.  The problem was outlined at the September 9 council meeting (note: at this writing the link to these minutes was not available). Mooring’s presentation can be found here.   The request is for $700,000 to design a new plant. Without the Centennial plant, Amherst is barely able to produce the 4.55 million gallons of drinking water needed for the town from the Atkins and Baby Carriage plants and the six wells in South Amherst, one of which is not currently used.  Other options, such as upgrading the other plants or hooking the Pelham reservoir into Atkins or building another plant in Sunderland are all more expensive than replacing Centennial.

Sarah Serwu of Amherst spoke against the cost of the project and urged the DPW to first look at maximizing ground water sources. It was estimated that redoing well 5 would cost only $40,000, but Mooring thought that because of the size of the aquifer, well 5 would not provide adequate additional water.  Lyons Whitten of the Water Supply Protection Committee spoke in favor of the project and noted that the town has only four years left to get Centennial back on line before new permitting is required. Chris Hockman of Pelham said he hopes the DPW will receive input from Pelham regarding the project. He was reassured that the town of Pelham will need to approve and permit the project.

Hickory Ridge

David Ziomek , Assistant Town Manager, and Geoff Kravitz, Economic Development Director, reviewed the agreement to purchase Hickory Ridge, with plans to use it primarily for recreation. . An additional $306,000 is needed to supplement the available funds from the Community Preservation Act and sale of existing real estate.  It is estimated that the property will bring in about $40,000 a year in payment in lieu of taxes from the proposed solar farm.

Tom Joyce of Amherst stated that the cart paths at the golf course often flood and would be icy in the winter.  He thought the clubhouse might be a good spot for a restaurant, and there are also three maintenance buildings. Bruce Stedman wondered about the impact on the Fort River and encouraged intensive efforts to get public input on possible use of the property.

The Council will discuss and probably vote on both projects at their October 21 meeting.  The special meeting was adjourned at 7:15.

Downtown Parking

Downtown parking was the subject of discussion for much of the regular council meeting.  Christine Gray-Mullen of the Planning Board and Kravitz introduced Matt Smith and Jason Novsum of Nelson Nygaard Consultants to give their second report. .The first study in 2016 resulted in some minor changes in times of enforcement and time limits in some lots.  Nelson Nygaard then conducted two public forums in 2018 and did surveys of available parking during various times.   They noted that only at 7PM on Saturday did parked cars exceed 85 percent capacity and then just barely.. Thursdays at 7PM was the next busiest time with 75 percent of spaces occupied.  Sixty percent of the 3300 spaces downtown are privately owned, and 395 of these are available after 5, because businesses are closed.

Suggestions included making all paid parking go until 8PM and increasing the number of  permit spaces for downtown workers and residents, so they do not use the metered spaces.  They also suggested that the first 15 minutes of parking be free and that a graduated fee schedule should be considered  so the longer one stays, the more the cost per hour.

The biggest recommendation was for the town to have a dedicated parking management position to handle all parking problems and to conduct quarterly parking counts.  They also suggested a Parking Benefit District where all revenue collected is pumped back into the downtown roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

There were many comments from the councilors.  Several wanted to see all metered parking end at 6PM, with a grace period of several minutes before ticketing.  Councilor Alisa Brewer (At large) doubted the town could afford another management position. Councilor Darcy DuMont, (District 5)  wondered why there was no mention of charging stations for electric cars or solar panels over parking lots. BID director, Gabrielle Gould, stated that her organization has formed a charitable 501 c3 to fund the private-public development of a new parking garage.

Writers’ Walk

Writers’ Walk signs designed by Seth Gregory of Northampton with consultation with the Historical Commission were presented by Ziomek.  The homes of twelve Amherst writers will be commemorated with signs, each giving a short biography and list of the author’s works. There is a map of all of the sign locations on each sign. . All but two are in the downtown area.  Norton Juster is the only living, author represented though he no longer resides at the downtown house marked with a sign. The writers and signs are described here..  The Department of Public Works will install the signs.  

Councilor Mandy-Jo Hanneke (At large), worried about access to the sign on Belchertown Road.  Councilor Dorothy Pam, (District 3) wondered about the selection of the writers to be honored and hoped that more could be added later.  The vote to install the signs passed unanimously.

Statements of Candidates for Office

A proposal to post  on the town web site the statements of candidates for town office was developed by the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) in consultation with the IT department.  A form was developed for a one page statement that candidates could submit digitally with a hyperlink to their web site. Hanneke stated that some changes were made to the GOL’s original proposal in order to meet ADA guidelines.  The proposal passed unanimously. All candidates for the November 5 town election will be mailed the link to post their statements. 

Appointments 

The Town Manager’s nominations for positions  to the Registrar of Voters were confirmed by the Outreach,Communications and Appointments Committee and ratified unanimously by the council.  They are Demetria Shabazz for a three year term and Jacqueline Gordon for a two year term. Jaime Wagner continues until June 30, 2020 and Acting Town Clerk, Sue Audette continues as an ex officio member.

Councilor Evan Ross, chair of OCA,  stated that the committee was working on refining appointments to town committees so that applications for council committees are handled differently than those for Town Manager committees.

Town Manager, Paul Bockelman reported that the front door of Town Hall, including the door frame will need to be replaced soon.  The replacement will be complicated and costly, and will take several months. The entrance will be accessible during most of the work time.  He is soliciting suggestions for guests at his next Cuppa Joe on October 11. His full report is here.

Council Retreat

Council president, Lynn Griesmer reported on the council retreat held on September 21.  Priorities of the councilors and their relationship of council goals to the Town Manager were discussed.  Liaisons to various town committees and to town staff and the town attorney were also covered. The next retreat will be scheduled  for November or early December.

The meeting adjourned to executive session at 10:15 PM

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