RECAP: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING (3/18/19)

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

by Maura Keene

Absent: Evan Ross

Participating via remote access: Alisa Brewer

The main event of this meeting was a presentation of the proposed statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) regarding the replacement of Fort River and Wildwood Schools.  Dr. Michael Morris, Superintendent and Anastasia Ordonez, School Committee Chair, presented the rationale for rapid application to the MSBA system because of the poor condition of these two elementary schools.  Their proposed remedy is a consolidated school with an enrollment of approximately 600 students (either K-5 or K-6), which would absorb the students of both Fort River and Wildwood Schools. Last week the School Committee voted unanimously to adopt this proposal as the basis of a statement of interest to be submitted to the MSBA, which is how the town can obtain state assistance for  constructing a new school.

The Town Council will vote on whether they will support a statement of interest  at the April 1 meeting, ahead of the April 11 deadline for submission.

The Town room was packed with people wanting to speak to the matter.  The three elementary school principals, Diane Chamberlain (Fort River), Derek Shea (Crocker Farm), and Nick Yaffe (Wildwood) spoke of the difficulty of managing the educational and physical problems at Wildwood and Fort River and expressed confidence that a larger, better-designed school would greatly benefit staff and students.  Over 20 other community members and school staff spoke in support of the plan. Many spoke to the difficulties the open classroom plan places on students with attention, hearing, or mobility concerns (even though the totally open plans were modified after a few years with new walls and doors). Everyone who wanted to speak was allowed time to do so.

Council President Lynn Griesemer noted that the statement of interest is to demonstrate a need for renovation or new construction.  If it is accepted, we will need to do a feasibility study and present more detailed plans, and at least 3 school configuration options, in order to make it to the next step in the  funding process.

East Street School And Affordable Housing

Also discussed before a much smaller audience was the plan for affordable housing at the former East Street school (across the South Amherst common from Fort River school), as voted in the May 2018 Town Meeting.  John Hornick of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust reported on the progress made on the plan. The land was transferred from the schools to the town. A wetlands assessment was done, as well as a site survey. Kuhn, Riddle, Inc offered a possible plan.

Now the Town Council needs to declare the site “surplus property”  and authorize the Town Manager to execute the land disposition and site control so that requests for proposals (RFPs) can be solicited and a developer chosen and given a 99-year lease.  The developer would be in charge of obtaining necessary permits. Property taxes will be collected on the building. The income levels of tenants, apartment sizes, number of apartments, building design will be determined in the RFPs.

At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke proposed that the matter of the building disposition be evaluated by the Finance Committee to give a cost/benefit analysis for pursuing affordable housing.  This was seconded by Griesemer. Elissa Campbell of the League of Women Voters spoke of their goal for everyone in the state to have safe, affordable housing and that all candidates for Town Council had expressed support for this proposal for the East Street site during the campaign.   District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen argued that this is not a financial decision, but a value statement, noting that, in her opinion, the site is appropriate for affordable housing. This view was echoed by District 3 Councilor George Ryan and District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber as well as the Finance Committee Chair and At-Large Councilor, Andy Steinberg.   The vote to refer failed 11-1, with Hanneke the only dissenting vote. A vote to declare the site surplus property will be held at the April 1 meeting of the Council.

Conservation Codes

District 5 Councilor Darcy Dumont proposed that the council participate in voting on the International Energy Conservation Code for establishing the base building code for Massachusetts.  Mandi Jo Hanneke seconded the motion. A discussion ensued with the council members raising concerns about whether they are the appropriate body to vote on this issue since most members lacked expertise in building codes.  The vote was 11-1 against participating with only Dumont supporting the motion.

Committee Reports

The charge for the Community Resources Committee was accepted unanimously as was the charge for the Audit Committee.  President Griesemer will work out a spreadsheet of committee appointments for all councilors.

Finance Committee  

At Large Councilor Steinberg stated that the beta test of the modeling program for capital projects has been received by the Finance Committee.  Eventually, it will be available for the entire Council and then will be made available to the public. He also reported that there is no way to move forward on the proposed major capital projects without at least one debt exclusion override.

Miscellaneous issues

Councilor Schoen reported for the Ad hoc Rules and Procedures Committee which is preparing a draft recommendation for which town committees should have liaisons from the Council.   It will be available May 4 in preparation for a vote by June 3.

District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz (Chair) reported for the Outreach, Communications and Appointments Committee (OCA). They met with the manager, Resident Advisory Committee (RAC) and Community Participation Officers (CPOs)  to work on a decision tree for interviewing citizens for town committees. They are waiting to hear from the Attorney General before finalizing the plan. Community Participation Officers have been attending district meetings.

Councilor Hannake (Chair) reported for the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee (GCO).  They filed a written report mandating that committee charges be “clear, consistent and actionable.” They are working on a template for all town committees to review their charges.  They are also developing a policy for use of public ways.

District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne (Chair) reported for the Council Goals and Values ad hoc committee which has only met once.  They will submit a report at the 4/22 meeting.

Announcements

A letter was received from State Senator Jo Commerford complimenting Amherst on the Net Zero bylaw passed in the May 2018 Town Meeting.  She has introduced a similar bill at the state level and dubbed it The Amherst Bill. Town Meeting was not acknowledged in the letter for its passage of the bylaw.

Reverend Vicki Kemper reported that the First Congregational Church received a waiver on the requirements for shelters and thanked the Council for its support in allowing the church to continue as a sanctuary for Lucio Perez.

Upcoming Anniversaries:

North Amherst Library: 150 years

League of Women Voters: 80 years

Amherst Education Foundation: 25 years (celebration in May)

Jessie Cooley of Big Brothers/Big Sisters requested use of the public way around Kendrick park for the 9th annual Daffodil Run on April 28, 2019.  Councilor Hanneke raised the issue of using metered parking spaces without paying (even though this event is on Sunday when parking meters are not needed).  Council voted 11-1 to permit the use with Hanneke casting the dissenting vote.

Town Manager Report:  The town continues to monitor the news from Hampshire College. The reduced security force at the college may impact the town’s public safety.

The town is still waiting for feedback from the state on the requirements for the temporary bridge on Station Road.  The bridge will not be in place by the end of April as originally hoped.

David Burgess, the town’s long-time assessor is retiring in July.

LSSE was given an award for outreach for taking its summer programming  to where children live.

Minutes for the past 2 Council meetings and the Four Towns Meeting and Budget Forum were approved unanimously.

Future topics coming before the Council:  

Amherst Recycling

Marijuana policy

Citizens for Racial Amity event for June will be discussed 4/22

Meeting adjourned at 10:45 PM

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