COUNCIL EMPOWERS TOWN MANAGER TO MAKE LONG-TERM CHANGES TO THE PUBLIC WAY TO ENABLE RESTAURANTS TO EXPAND OUTDOOR SEATING

Outdoor dining in downtown Amherst. Photo: flckr.com

REPORT: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (6/1/20)

The meeting was held via Zoom webcast and was also broadcast on Amherst Media Channel 17. The recording of the meeting can be viewed here.

Highlights

  • Council discussed a temporary zoning bylaw to support fast tracking changes to support reopening businesses with matters such as parking, outdoor dining, lighting and deliveries. 
  • Council adopted several proclamations, including one honoring the memory of George Floyd, who was killed last week by police in Minneapolis
  • Town Manager presented a draft one-month budget which will be discussed at the next Council meeting on June 15
  • Council approved request by a developer to alter the public way at the South East Commons project; it scheduled a public hearing on a request to alter the public way for a project at South University and Snell Streets
  • Council discussed a proposal to change the requirements in the Zoning Bylaw that requires a 2/3 vote of the Planning Board for Site Plan Reviews
  • Town Manager presented his report

Zoning Bylaws
The Council again discussed a proposed temporary zoning bylaw that would permit Building Commissioner Rob Morra, in consultation with Planner Chris Brestrup and Bockelman, to expeditiously approve applications for expanded outdoor dining and drive-through take-out, and the establishment of new businesses in vacant storefronts. The Council is required to approve or reject any change for more than 14 days to the use of the public way, but this would hinder the enactment of the temporary zoning change. Hanneke proposed that the Town Manager be permitted to grant long-term use of the public way under the temporary zoning bylaw change. This passed the Governance Organization and Legislation Committee (GOL) 5-0 and also the Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) 5-0. After waiving Council Rule 8.4 which requires a second reading before a vote, the Council voted 11-1 to approve the change in how requests to temporarily alter the public way are granted. DuMont voted no, objecting to the waiver of Rule 8.4 and stating that there ought to be opportunity for public input before the vote.

Hanneke proposed a change to the Zoning Bylaw 11.250, which states that two-thirds of the Planning Board (and not fewer than five members) must approve all Site Plan Reviews and Special Permits. Because the Charter reduced the membership of the Planning Board from nine to seven members, it could be difficult to even have five voting members. The proposed bylaw would require a simple majority to approve a Site Plan Review, but maintain the two-thirds necessary for a Special Permit. Councilor Cathy Schoen (District 1) worried that this could mean that a measure could pass with only three votes, with a quorum of four present. Steve Schreiber (District 4), a former Planning Board member, stated that “that’s democracy” and that members who don’t show up can’t vote. The matter was referred to the Community Resources Committee and the Planning Board.

Proclamations
The meeting began with a moving statement by Councilor Pat DeAngelis (District 2) about the killing of African-Americans by police, motivated by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis who died in a police choke hold the week before and in recognition of the subsequent protests nationwide. The Council then passed a resolution condemning Floyd’s death by a 12-0 vote. The Council held a moment of silence in remembrance of Floyd.

Over the previous weekend, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Police Chief Scott Livingstone, School Superintendent Mike Morris, Human Rights Commission Chair Matthew Charity, and the two police unions issued a joint statement condemning police brutality and the killing of Floyd. Livingstone pointed out that the Amherst Police Department is transitioning to a younger force, many of whom have not had experience with public protests. He has discussed with the newer members the right of the public to hold vigils and demonstrations, and what they should expect. He has also had meetings with several local activist groups.

DeAngelis and Councilor Evan Ross (District 4) sponsored a proclamation designating June as LGBTQ Pride Month. Ross acknowledged the contributions of black and brown people who have fought for LGBQT equality for generations. They are not mentioned explicitly in the proclamation, but should be, he said, The proclamation passed 12-0 as part of the consent agenda.

Councilor Alissa Brewer (at large) sponsored the Race Amity Day Proclamation for Sunday, June 14 This year’s celebration will be virtual. The proclamation passed 12-0 as part of the consent agenda.

Public Comment
Gazit Chaya Nkosi requested information about how to get an item on the Town Council agenda.

Budget
Bockelman and Finance Director Sean Mangano presented the proposed one-month budget for July 2020.

This budget is larger than 1/12 of the annual budget because the annual retirement assessment, which is more than $6 million, must be paid in full in July. The amounts in this budget are based on historical spending. The one- month budget will eventually be incorporated into the full FY2021 budget. The capital budget and Joint Capital Planning Committee recommendations will be discussed at the Finance Committee meeting on June 2 and brought to the full Council on June 15.

South East Commons: Request for Alteration of Public Way
The Council discussed a proposed alteration of the public way at Amir Mikhchi’s South East Commons development at 133 and 143 South East street. The proposed changes include sidewalks near the mixed-use building and near the street, a bus stop, and a small plaza with benches. There is currently no sidewalk along this part of South East Street. The changes would also include grading the ground from the building down to the street (wet conditions necessitate raising the building’s foundation). The changes would be paid for by the developer; in addition, the developer would maintain the plaza and benches. The Design Review Board (DRB) suggested adding containers for recycling, lighting, and that some of the benches should have arms and some should not. The Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) voted unanimously to recommend the design to the full Council. TSO Chair Darcy DuMont (District 5) proposed adding the DRB suggestions to the motion to accept the design. Ross said that although the developer should be given the DRB recommendations, the Council should not make approval contingent on incorporating any of them. The DRB recommendations were removed from the motion by a 10-2 vote, with DuMont and Dorothy Pam (District 3) voting no. The motion to allow alterations of the public way was passed 12-0.

Intersection Reconfiguration at South University and Snell Streets
Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and attorney Tom Reidy presented a plan to reconfigure the intersection of South University and Snell Street to include a roundabout and parking in the dead-end portion of South University. 

This reconfiguration would go along with the proposed mixed-use development proposed by Barry Roberts and Curt Shumway for the corner. The plans have been approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board, and Conservation Committee. The developers would pay for the roundabout and parking and the Town could receive parking revenue from the created metered parking and parking permits issued. 

DuMont asked about the sustainability of the building project, and Reidy said he doubts there would be electric car charging stations because the charging stations at Roberts’ development at 70 University Drive are underutilized. He said that solar panels are not feasible because mini-split units for heating and cooling will be installed on the roof. 

Councilor Mandi-Jo Hanneke (At-large) pointed out that, because of the changes in parking, a public hearing is necessary. Unlike the South East Street developer’s proposal, this plan was not referred to the TSO, in order to expedite approval. Brewer said that the presentation and discussion they had just had was adequate. There will be a hearing on the matter at the Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on June 29.

In a memo written the day of the meeting (hence, it was not included in the meeting packet), Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) proposed that the Council develop a consistent policy for requests for alterations to public streets and sidewalks, e.g. discussion before the Council or referral to the TSO. This will be discussed at a future meeting. 

Committee Reports
In committee reports, GOL Chair George Ryan (District 3), said that the committee voted to extend the term of Marylou Theilman as a nonvoting member of the Finance Committee for one month, until August 1, 2020 so that she can participate in finalizing the FY 2021 budget. This passed 12-0. GOL has solicited Statements of Interest from applicants to replace Theilman.

Capital Projects
Schoen reported that JCPC had filed its recommendations with the Town Manager. 

Since all capital projects except for roads and sidewalks are being placed on hold in next year’s budget, JCPC will meet again in the fall to plan for expenditures over the next few years, once the financial picture of the town is clearer. Also, the charter requires the Town Manager to provide a listing of all capital assets of the Town to the Council and to update it yearly. This has not yet been done. JCPC will formulate a means to accomplish this, since it will be important to see where the greatest needs are in times of limited resources.

Town Manager Report 
Bockelman’s report highlighted the successful opening of the Amherst Farmers’ Market. He plans to begin opening Town Hall to employees soon, with a maximum of 25 percent occupancy and sensitivity to those with vulnerable conditions. The Town is working on guidelines for use of Puffer’s Pond. Swimming will be permitted but space on the beach will be limited due to required social distancing. Amherst Leisure Services is working on new guidelines for summer camps. 

The Town Clerk is working on voting locations for the fall elections. 

Cuppa Joe on June 5 featured Sean Mangano and Comptroller Sonia Aldrich. 

The Thursday noon Community Chat was with the Town’s Community Participation Officers.

All of these events are conducted via Zoom and recorded . 

Griesemer announced that all district Councilors have held virtual meetings over the past two weeks.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:45 p.m.

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1 thought on “COUNCIL EMPOWERS TOWN MANAGER TO MAKE LONG-TERM CHANGES TO THE PUBLIC WAY TO ENABLE RESTAURANTS TO EXPAND OUTDOOR SEATING

  1. Will bike-lanes and sidewalks be expropriated in this plan? Will “drive-thru” services embrace “walk-thru” and “bike-thru” opportunities as well?

    Let me relate an absurd (yet true!) anecdote to illustrate why such questions are pertinent:

    After the Five Colleges Credit Union relocated from University Drive to Hadley, occasionally I found myself biking to their Hadley site after the lobby hours ended to conduct business. The first time I did that, the teller initially refused me service, saying “bikes are not allowed at the drive-thru window!” So I parked my bike nearby, walked up window, and – before the teller could object – I said “I’m now driving my car, but it’s very, very, tiny, so you may not be able to see it…” and was immediately (and mirthfully 😉 served.

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