REPORT: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (3/9/20)
All members were present. Steve Schreiber (District 4), arrived at 7 PM. Staff: Paul Bockelman Town Manager and Athena O’Keefe, Council Clerk
The engagement of Melanson Heath for the Fiscal year 2020 audit and the council minutes from the February 24 meeting were both approved 12-0.
- Following a public hearing to consider banning daytime parking on Lincoln Avenue, the Council referred the proposal to the newly created Town Services and Outreach committee with the expectation of a report and recommendations in 90 days.
- The Council approved a revision of the open container bylaw to permit limited liquor licenses for special events.
- The Council voted to apply the Mullin Rule (allowing members who have missed a meeting to vote on issues discussed in their absence) to the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Local Historic District Commission.
- The Council finalized the appointment of Council liaisons to several town committees.
School Committee Vacancy
President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) called the meeting to order at 6:30 PM. She announced that interviews for the open seat on the school committee, which resulted from the resignation of Eric Nakajima, will be held on April 14 with a second date of April 16 if necessary. The vacancy was posted on the town web site on March 3. Councilors were encouraged to submit sample questions for the interview process. Griesemer and School Committee chair Allison McDonald will draft the final seven or eight interview questions. Applications are due by the end of March.
Thondup Tsering, President of the Original Tibet Association of Massachusetts, reported on the Tenth Annual Tibet Day Celebration and Walk. The 10 AM flag raising at Town Hall and walk from Amherst to Northampton held on Tuesday, March 10 commemorated the 61st anniversary of the uprising of Tibetans against their occupation by China. Over one million Tibetans lost their lives in the uprising. The council voted 12-0 (Schrieber arrived late) to accept the proclamation in support of Tibet Day and a thank you to the 84 year old Dalai Lama.
At public comment period, Meg Gage of District 1, hoped that, in its second year, the Council would put more emphasis on defining and encouraging meaningful public participation, making more use of the three Community Participation Officers. She presented a nine page memo on this topic written by councilor Mandi-Jo Hanneke (at large) for the Charter Commission. She will forward the memo to the council.
Revised Open Container Bylaw
Doug Slaughter, chair of the Board of License Commissioners, and Councilor Evan Ross (District 4) reintroduced a revised open container bylaw to permit limited liquor licenses for special events. Slaughter said the proposed bylaw is purposely written very broadly, so a new bylaw does not need to be passed if guidelines around limited permits are modified. He did suggest changing the word “permit” to “license”. Councilor Dorothy Pam (District 3) wanted more limitations, such as only allowing licensing of downtown events and requiring damage deposits. Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) pointed out that many family events for the University of Massachusetts are held at Mill River, and that sponsors of those events would appreciate the opportunity to get a permit. Councilor Sarah Swartz (District 1) noted that alcohol was already consumed at Mill River. Licensing would give greater control. Ross discouraged micromanaging of the licenses. He supports a broad bylaw, leaving the Board of License Commissioners discretion in the granting of the licenses. But Council Alisa Brewer (at large) stated that in the past, the Board has never had to choose between applicants, since only UMASS was ever given a one-day license. The revised bylaw passed 10-1-2, with Cathy Schoen (District 1) voting no and Pam and Schreiber abstaining.
Public Hearing on Lincoln Avenue Parking
Gilford Mooring, Head of the Department of Public Works, Police Chief Scott Livingstone, and Assistant Fire Chief Jeffrey Olmstead presented their findings regarding parking on Lincoln Avenue. Residents of Lincoln Avenue have described dangerous conditions for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians resulting from parking on the street by those working at UMASS and downtown leaving their cars parked on Lincoln all day. Lincoln Avenue is a major thoroughfare to UMASS. The Town Manager and staff proposed no parking on Lincoln north of Amity from 8 AM to 5 PM on weekdays. Parking would still be allowed on both sides of the street between Amity and Northampton Road (Route 9), though the tow-away zones near intersections would be increased to 60 feet, from 30 feet at all intersections except for Amity where it would be 120 feet. There is no on-street parking at any time currently allowed north of Fearing, and none from 8AM to 5 PM between McClellan and Fearing.
Mooring reported that this is the fourth or fifth time traffic concerns on Lincoln have been studied over the past 20 years. According to State Police data, there were 29 collisions on Lincoln from 2016 through 2018. Twelve were between Elm and McClellan. Six were south of Amity. Seven were at the intersection of Lincoln and Amity, and three at the intersection of Lincoln and Northampton Road. None involved pedestrians or cyclists. DPW placed a traffic counter on the street for three days this month. Since the speed bumps were installed in 2005, there were 1000 fewer vehicles tracked on the street per day, an average of 1916 vehicles per day. The posted speed limit is 30 miles per hour but the average speed of vehicles tracked was 19 miles per hour with a high of 47 miles per hour. Ten potential traffic violations were observed in the 3 days.
Schreiber felt that the conditions on Lincoln should not be dealt with in isolation, but should be part of an examination of parking issues around town. Similar crowding conditions exist around the high school. He also pointed out that parked cars protect pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk by providing a buffer. Bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk, except in downtown. Councilor Pat DeAngelis (District 2) wondered, if parking on Lincoln during the day created unsafe conditions, wouldn’t those conditions also be unsafe in the evening when residents and their guests tend to park on the street? And if it is not safe on weekdays, why is it safer evenings and weekends? Olmstead pointed out that fire trucks need 12 feet of clearance. While they do not often use Lincoln to go to UMASS, there have been instances when it was the fastest way. If there is a delivery truck parked, the fit may be tight.
There were many in the audience who wished to comment both for and against the proposed parking changes. Louise Riley and Ellie Porter who both live south of Amity, wondered why their area was not included in the study or in the Town’s plan, since visibility from Gaylord onto Lincoln is severely impaired by parked cars. Bruce Wilcox felt the parking situation has gotten much worse in recent years and is only a problem when UMASS is in session. Suki Krause thought that most of those parking near her house were town employees, not workers at UMASS. She did not think it was fair to push parking to surrounding streets.
Resident Frank Meyers pointed out the possible delaying of ambulance response if a fuel truck or delivery truck was blocking the street. Jim Barna of Dana Place suggested that no commercial vehicles be allowed on the street. Martha Cramer of East Pleasant Street asked what kind of town do we want to be when those in a well- off neighborhood close to downtown want to restrict access to free, convenient parking for those who come into town for work.
Brewer suggested painting the curbs for tow away zones near hydrants and intersections. Mooring stated that a roundabout was once suggested for the intersection of Lincoln and Amity, but the idea was unpopular. Schoen suggested expanding the no parking areas near intersections to 60 feet on all streets and from 120 to 200 feet near Amity. Maps of the existing situation and proposed changes can be found here. Hanneke proposed to refer the matter to the newly formed Town Services and Outreach committee. This passed 9-4. Pam, Schreiber, DeAngelis, and Darcy DuMont (District 5) voted no. A report will be given to the council in 90 days.
The Mullin rule is a state rule, which allows members to vote on an issue if they have missed one or more discussions, provided they have reviewed video or minutes of the meetings they have missed. The Council considered a motion to adopt the Mullin rule for members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Local Historic District Commission, committees with adjudicatory duties. The motion passed 13-0.
Council liaisons were appointed to several town committees, though Councilor George Ryan (District 3) noted that only six of the 13 councilors offered to serve as liaisons. Swartz then volunteered, saying she hadn’t had a chance earlier. She will serve as a liaison to Leisure Services and the Council on Aging. Pam will be the liaison to the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, Schoen to the Community Preservation Act Committee, DeAngelis to the Disabilities Access Committee, Ryan to the Board of Health, DuMont to the Transportation Advisory Committee, and Brewer to the Board of License Commissioners.
Proposals to Joint Capital Planning Committee
The Joint Capital Planning Commission received only one proposal from the public. Two high school students submitted a request for installing solar panels over the school parking lot. The committee will now begin considering the requests from town departments.
The soon to be disbanded Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee (OCA)will soon be arranging interviews for the three vacancies on the Zoning Board of Appeals. The applicant pool was deemed sufficient to fill at least two of the open seats. The committee continues to work on revising the Community Activity Forms, and are still debating how much information about applicants should be made public.
Town Manager Report
The Town Manager report largely concerned the Town’s plans for Covid-19 preparedness. He assured the town that the Board of Health was staying on top of the conditions. A newly formed core committee consists of Board of Health chair Julie Federman, Public safety with Police Chief Livingstone and the Fire Department, and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek for public information. The committee is working with IT to keep the town web site up to date. Since this council meeting, a special council meeting was called for March 16, specifically to discuss Covid-19. The public is encouraged to watch this meeting on Channel 17 through Amherst Media.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:24 PM