REPORT: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (10/7/19)

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

Present: Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Alisa Brewer (At large), Darcy DuMont (District 5), Mandi Jo Hanneke (At large), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Evan Ross (District 4), George Ryan (District 3), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Stephen Schreiber (District 4), and Sarah Swartz (District 1). Absent: Pat DeAngelis (District 2) and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5). Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Council Clerk)

Highlights

  • The meeting was called to order at 6:30 to a standing-room only crowd. Most in the audience were there to discuss UMass’ planned demolition of North Village student family housing and Lincoln Apartments.

  • There was a spirited discussion of plans for listening sessions to give the public a chance to weigh in on the town’s four planned capital projects and the potential tax increases they might require.  And the councilors did not agree on whether these sessions were designed solely to get feedback or to also promote the One Town, One Plan approach to the capital projects.

Announcements

Council President Griesemer announced a Tax Classification Public Hearing on October 21 and a Public Forum on the Master Plan on October 28. Both will be held at 6:30 in the Town Room of Town Hall. There will be a primer on the Master Plan at 5:30 on October 28.

26 Spring Street Development

Nick Kriegel from Eversource presented a new plan for a new pole and switching junction box on Spring Street near Churchill to allow moving the electricity lines underground for the construction of the new building at 26 Spring Street. The Council and Department of Public Works support the project but voiced hope that there would be minimum impact on the shade trees in the area. There was no public comment.

A representative from Archipelago, the developer of 26 Spring Street, then presented a request to use the sidewalk and four metered parking spaces in front of the project from October 15, 2019 to January 15, 2021 during the construction. They would pay $10 per day per parking space or about $10,000. They will also post a $35,000 bond to repair any street or sidewalk damage. Councilor Andy Steinberg  hoped that signage would alert those with disabilities of the sidewalk closure well in advance. Councilor Dorothy Pam pointed out that the original plans for the project had fewer units and did provide parking. The motion for the use of the sidewalk and street passed 8 to 1 with Pam voting against and Cathy Schoen and Darcy DuMont abstaining. Construction will start this week.

Kanegasaki Commemoration

The Council voted 11-0 (with 2 absent) to support a commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the Life Long Learning Center of Amherst’s sister city, Kanegasaki, Japan.

North Village Apartments Demolition

Representatives from the University of Massachusetts Tony Maroulis, Executive Director of External Relations, Nancy Buffone, Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations, and Shane Conklin, Facilities Director, presented the University’s plans to protect the current residents of North Village, who are slated for eviction due to the planned demolition of their housing, by securing space in nearby Presidential and Brandywine apartments, and covering additional rent, utilities, and moving costs for the families for about two years beginning June 2020. North Village was built as temporary housing in 1971 and is well past its suitability for housing. According to the UMass representatives, about half of the units in North Village  are unusable, and no new residents will be accepted given the impending demolition. The university met with North Village families in the afternoon and will reach out to each one to determine their needs. Children currently living at North Village will remain in Wildwood Elementary School.

Considerable public comment time was devoted to the many residents of North Village and their supporters who were present. They spoke of the disruption to the multinational community at North Village. They testified that most of the families there do not have other family members living close by, so their support system is their neighbors. John Hornik, chair of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, pointed out that UMass already has over 16,000 more students than can be accommodated on campus, and that the plans to displace the 90 families in North Village and 110 single graduate students in Lincoln Apartments will put even more pressure on Amherst’s tight housing market. UMass does intend to build a 730-bed undergraduate dorm on Massachusetts Avenue and to add 50 beds to the building that will replace the current Lincoln Apartments but construction will take a minium of two years.

Councilors had questions about the public private partnership (PPP) under which the new buildings will be constructed. Amherst resident Irv Rhodes pointed out that the other three PPP projects in the state used nonprofit developers and did not contribute to the property tax base of their respective towns. Maroulis said that the details of these projects are not yet fleshed out. UMass is still working on the request for proposals.

Former selectperson Connie Kruger said that UMass needs to adhere to the state’s Uniform Relocation Act and pay for moving costs and any difference in rental costs for the residents. Apparently, because of underground utilities and the layout of North Village, it would not be safe to have anyone living on part of the site during construction, so all residents would need to move at the same time. 

Pam inquired about the sustainability of the new construction. Maroulis answered that it would meet university standards, which are LEED silver. Pam also said she hoped the university would reconsider its plan to close the Amherst Family Center next June, since many of the North Village tenants meet there. Councilor Alisa Brewer  said she hoped that there would be play areas in Presidential and Brandywine complexes, a point raised by 11-year-old North Village resident Saara Rathod. 

Several councilors hoped that the university would broaden its definition of families. 

Residents of North Village asked the Town Council to advocate for their fair treatment.

In the end, councilors agreed to stay informed on the progress of the two projects, but Brewer noted that  the town has very little power over what UMass plans to build. 


There was no discussion of any plans to meet the needs of the current residents of Lincoln Apartments after they are displaced. 

Capital Projects

Most of the public left at the break, which followed the North Village  discussion. But a spirited discussion regarding the four proposed capital projects followed. These are: elementary school(s), Jones library, DPW building, and fire station. The Council proposed several “listening sessions” in November to present possibilities to the public. The title “One Town, One Plan” was chosen for these sessions. Schoen and DuMont expressed reservations about the title, in that it implied that all four projects should be done and that there is only one way to accomplish that. Councilor Sarah Swartz expressed the worry of many of her District 1 constituents that property taxes are likely to increase and might make their homes unaffordable. DuMont felt that the projects should not be presented by the Council but rather by the Town Manager or respective departments, since the councilors are the ones who must approve borrowing funds by a two-thirds margin.

Councilor Evan Ross said he was shocked that some of his colleagues were not supportive of the Council developing a strategic plan for financing all of the capital projects, and said that all seemed favorable at the September 21 Council Retreat. Councilor George Ryan  said councilors must not only listen to the public, but must lead in decisions.

Brewer said she did not see what would be accomplished by these listening sessions, but Hanneke said that she felt it would be a way to gauge the willingness of town residents to pay for these projects. Dates, times, and places for the listening sessions will be announced in the near future.

Governance, Organization and Legislation

Ryan, the new chair of the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL), recommended that all resolutions, proclamations, commemorations, and citations be sponsored by a councilor. If no councilor is willing to be a sponsor, the petitioner can gather 250 signatures, as provided for in the charter, and present it to the Council. All such matters should be reviewed by GOL to make sure they are clear, consistent, and actionable. Hanneke prepared a FAQ for those wishing to bring  matters before the council. Brewer expressed support for this policy to regulate what matters are brought to the Council. Griesemer said she is happy that she is now not the only one evaluating the proposals. Voting on the policy will probably be on October 21, satisfying the two-meeting rule on changing policies. 

GOL did recommend that required public hearings regarding zoning and planning changes be held under the auspices of the Community Resources Committee and the Planning Board. This passed unanimously.

The council unanimously authorized the warrant for the November 5 election for School Committee, Housing Authority, Jones Library Trustees, and Oliver Will Smith Trustee. As per the charter, all seats are up for election every two years. Voting locations will be by precinct as in previous elections, though there may be some effort to consolidate some voting locations by district in the future. Election day is a curriculum day, so elementary school students will not be in the building during voting. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Appointments

Town Manager appointments to the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee were approved unanimously.  They are: Gail Lansky (reappointment) and Stephanie Leombruno. The Council unanimously approved appointments to the Water Supply Protection Committee. They are: Linda Arsenault, Anna Martini, John Tobiason, Lyons Witten (reappointment), and Brian Yellen (reappointment).

There was some discussion about the appointment of Shavena Martin to the Town Clerk position. Some councilors had hoped to improve the participation of college students in elections by having the Town Clerk come from one of the local higher education communities. Hanneke wondered why the Daily Hampshire Gazette published an article about Martin’s appointment before it was approved by the Council. Bockelman said that the reporter saw the appointment on the Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee agenda and called to get her background. The article did say that the appointment was contingent on Council approval, which was unanimous at this meeting. 

Outreach, Communications and Appointments (OCA) Chair Ross introduced a motion for all Citizen Activity Forms (CAF’s) of applicants to Council committees be distributed to the full Council. This was also approved without dissent.

Town Manager’s Report

Town Manager Paul Bockelman’s report noted a breakfast for veterans on November 11 sponsored by the Senior Center, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. 

New staff have been hired at Craig’s Doors shelter, but the shelter may not be able to open on November 1 because the staff must undergo training and orientation. Hopefully, it will open in mid-November.

The purchase of the Hickory Ridge Golf Course has been delayed until December 1.

Minutes of previous meetings were approved, and the meeting was adjourned at 10:50 p.m. 

The next council meeting will be on October 21.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *