Town Manager Paul Bockelman makes a comprehensive report to the Town Council at each of its regular meetings. The reports, usually 12 to 15 pages, provide up-to-date information on what is happening within and across Town departments. The Manager’s Report is usually one of the last items on the agenda and is often taken up late at night, leaving little time for the Manager to do more than mention a few highlights and this is usually all that gets entered into the Council minutes.
In response to reader requests, we have excerpted some highlights from the latest Town Manager report. The complete report to the Council for March 9, 2020 can be found here.
I am preparing appointments for the Conservation Commission and Board of License Commissioners.
Town Councilor Evan Ross submitted his resignation from the Energy and Climate Action Committee. That creates a vacancy that is to be filled by a Town Councilor.
Outreach and Community Participation Officers (CPOs)
Community Clean-Up: Planning is underway for the second annual Community-wide Spring Clean-Up on April 18th. Town Councilors will be invited to participate, if you so desire.
Complete Count – United States Census: Town staff continue to work to ensure full participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. The Census is very important to the Town for state and Federal funding. As a reminder, the Town is considered the 9th hardest to count community in the State due to the demographics of our participation, so a concerted effort to engage residents and help them return census forms is a priority for Town staff.
Continue to work with Representative Domb and other partners including the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and non-profits.
Provided testimony at the Massachusetts House Committee on Redistricting, chaired by Representative Paul Mark, in conjunction with the Senate Committee on Redistricting.
Continue to work with the University to reinforce participation by those students who don’t live on campus.
Are training frontline Town office staff so there is a wider understanding of the Census by Town employees who interact with the public on a regular basis.
Are utilizing existing Town mailings to broaden those who receive the message about participating in the Census.
CPOs have worked with the leaders of the Tibetan community to ensure full engagement for the annual Free Tibet Day flag raising, proclamation, and march. The flag raising will be on March 10th at 10:00 a.m.
Staff have been working with representatives from the Town of Hadley to explore ways we can work together on water and sewer issues. The agreements are being reviewed by the Town Attorney.
I have reached out to the Select Board in the Town of Pelham to determine if the I-Net project we are preparing could benefit the Pelham communication issues at its school, communications tower, and other municipal offices. This could reduce the costs to the Town of Pelham and offset some of the expenses for the Town of Amherst. I have reached out to the Hadley Town Administrator to explore other areas of cooperation between the two communities.
The Town has been working in close communication with our institutional partners on the COVID-19 issue. The Health Director has made several presentations at staff and faculty meetings at Amherst College. We have received several positive reports and appreciation from the College that our Health Director and Nurse had been absolutely terrific in the open meetings bringing a wealth of knowledge and a calming influence.
Staff continue to meet with representatives of the University on a renewal of the Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Hampshire College will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first entering class on October 16-18.
Kanegasaki Sister City
The trip from students the Town’s sister-city in Kanegasaki, Japan has been canceled. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has cancelled all school until April and our visitors don’t feel it is appropriate to travel at this time. They apologize and acknowledge that so many people have spent a lot of time helping plan and organize the trip. They fully expect to be visiting next year at this time.
The Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness hosted a meeting of Upper Pioneer Valley legislators to discuss FY21 budget and policy priorities for housing and homelessness. The Town Council President and I attended representing the Town.
The Presidential Primary was held on March 3rd. The Town Clerk, her staff, and the dozens of election workers ensured that the election was conducted professionally and without any major issues.
The Town Clerk arranged to have two early voting locations for voters registered in Amherst for the Presidential Primary, Town Hall and UMass Amherst Campus. 918 people voted during the five days early voting was held at Town Hall. 293 people voted during the three days of voting at UMass. The 1,211 total was a very good turnout.
Election Day went off with very few issues. Congratulations to our hard-working staff who put in 20 hour work days to ensure everyone who was eligible to vote was able to vote. The complete unofficial election results are attached to the end of this report.
The State Primary election is on September 1st. There is no early voting for the State Primary.
The Presidential and State elections are on November 3rd. There will be early voting on October 19-30. Times and locations are to be determined.
Town Hall Doors
The work on the front entrance to Town Hall is scheduled to take several months. In the meantime, a basic wooden replacement structure will remain in place and the front entrance will continue to be available for use. Access for the disabled will continue to be available at the Main Street entrance.
Preparations for March 7th are very similar to previous years’ preparations. The entire 42 members of the Amherst Police Department will be utilized this weekend. In addition, upward of 150 members of mutual aid partners and State Police will also be in Town on Saturday.
The Fire Department will staff up to ensure all five ambulances are available in additional to other needs for emergency response. An outside ambulance will be stationed at the Mullen’s Center during the large concert being promoted by the University.
Emergency Operations Centers at the Amherst Police Station and at the University’s Police Station will be up and running all day on Saturday.
This is a team effort between the public safety agencies, including the UMass Police Department, and the Town and University. The University takes responsibility for all outside expenses incurred.
I have approved a temporary sidewalk art project which will be part of the Massachusetts Cultural District Art Week. There will be four parts to this art project. All four will initiate at the intersection of North and South Pleasant Streets, and Amity and Main Streets. One will be of the Sammy the Owl with foot prints hopping up Amity Street to the Jones Library. One will be of the Very Hungry Caterpillar with foot prints leading up South Pleasant Street. One will be of the Hitchcock Center salamander with foot prints leading up South Pleasant Street. And one will be a poem of Emily Dickinson’s with foot prints and paw prints heading down Main Street to the Dickinson Homestead. The Business Improvement District will cover all costs of this project.
The Town received a $100,000 Municipal Vulnerabilities Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEA). The grant funding is designated to hire technical assistance, interpreters/translators, and to engage a community liaison in the development of a Climate Action, Adaptation and Resiliency Plan. These advocates and advisors will work closely with the Town’s Sustainability Coordinator and other staff with advice from the Town’s Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC). Congratulations to the Sustainability Coordinator for advocating for this grant.
I met with the Mayor of Northampton and member of the Select Board in Pelham to advance the efforts of the three communities seeking to establish a relationship through a Joint Powers Agreement to purchase electricity. Our State Senator and Representative secured funding of $50,000 in the FY20 budget to support the study and legal exploration of this initiative.
The Town is exploring the addition of two more Valley BikeShare locations to expand the network. While the bikes and equipment will be provided, there will be a request for Town funds to prepare the space and bring electricity to the locations. There will also be an ongoing fee for operations that I am reviewing for inclusion in the budget.
Town departments are working with the sustainability coordinator to explore alternatives to vehicles that only burn fossil fuels.
The Senior Center launched the first-ever Saturday program and it was a smashing success with 26 older adults in attendance. The program attracted a group of newly retired adults who were not previously connected with the senior center, as well as several regular attendees. The youngest participant retired 2 months ago. The oldest participant is in her late 90s. The participants are very enthusiastic about the program. There will be a series of presenters for the following 5 weeks. The Senior Director recruited also have a high school volunteer to set up and greet participants each of these Saturday mornings.
This most recent session shared information about the science of resilience and taught mind body tools to enhance it. The Senior Director served nutrition-packed smoothies for the break which, to their surprise, they liked as much as the content. Most importantly, they openly shared their concerns and fears about aging.
Community Participation Officer Angela Mills worked with the Senior Director to bring together older and younger residents to share memories and advice. I want you to know what an impact Angela Mills made on the seniors of Amherst. The goal is to connect the seniors who, as they age, often feel invisible, less relevant, and are hardly seen as vibrant or valued. The students from the University an Amherst College brought an infusion of optimism and liveliness to the 14 older adults. The older adults were prepared with photos, scrapbooks and mementos from their lives. The students brought iPhone, voluble enthusiasm, and sincerity.
The juxtaposition of ages and life stages, balanced by gender and enhanced by cultures from around the world represented the best of what happens when we reach beyond our preconceived ideas of groups of people and provide safe space and scaffolding – hearts warm, isolation is vanquished, and joy and laughter erupt as personalities return with the warmth of attention.
Much attention is being paid to COVID-19. The Town has a great team in place as we plan for and manage this situation. The team is led by Health Director Julie Federman and Emergency Management Officer and Fire Chief Tim Nelson. Also on the team are Police Chief Scott Livingstone who also oversees our communications center and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek who serves as the Town’s Public Information Officer. This team is supported by a large group of other support staff. Our messaging has been simple: We are on it! We are prepared! We have great people managing it!
Health Director Federman and Public Health Nurse Brown recently addressed campus-wide meetings of faculty, staff, and a specific department at Amherst College. The College noted that they brought a wealth of information and a calming influence to their meetings.
https://www.amherstma.gov/3519/Coronavirus is updated regularly.
The strategic plan for LSSE continues after two public information sessions. 300 surveys were returned to the Donahue Institute, the firm conducting the study.
Conservation and Development
Additional information has been submitted to the Town regarding the Flood Insurance (FIRM) maps. With this information, we will have the consultant revise the maps. This will restart the 90-day comment period. I will update the Town Council – and the public – when the comment period restarts.
Valley Community Development Corporation submitted its request for a Project Eligibility Letter for 132 Northampton Road to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
The Department of Housing and Community Development notified the Town on January 31st that Valley Community Development Corporation had applied under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program for preliminary approval of the proposed Studio Apartment Supportive Housing at 132 Northampton Road project in Amherst.
At the conclusion of the 30-day comment period, I submitted all comments including a cover letter to DHCD. The entire document is available on the Town’s website and I have attached the document to this report. More information on this project can be found on the project page on the Town of Amherst’s website: https://www.amherstma.gov/3520/Valley-CDC-132-Northampton-Road. DHCD will review Valley’s Project Eligibility application, including the public comments the Town submitted, and send a letter of approval or denial. It may take DCHD 2-4 weeks to complete its review the Project Eligibility application. Approval of the Project Eligibility means that Valley CDC can submit its Chapter 40B comprehensive permit application. Denial would mean that Valley would need to start the process over again. If DHCD approves Valley CDC’s Project Eligibility application, Valley will likely submit its 40B application this summer, providing them sufficient time to complete this process before November/ December when they would apply to the One-Stop program for financing and tax credits.
This Spring, we will be conducting educational sessions with the Town Attorney for staff and the members of the ZBA ensure everyone is up to date on the review process and permitting that is typical for a comprehensive permit. We will utilize the Town Attorney throughout the permitting of this project because it follows a different path from our normal permit process.
The Assistant Town Manager and I have been meeting with interested parties to assess the roles and responsibilities of an Economic Development Director as we develop the profile for advertising the position. I anticipate we will be prepared to advertise in the next couple of weeks.
Major Capital Projects
Groff Park: The DPW was able to accomplish several important pieces of work on this project due to the mild winter. We are now looking forward to opening the park by Memorial Day in 2020.
DPW/Fire: The Town continues to explore and be open to other sites that might meet the needs and requirements of a location for DPW.
Schools: The Crocker Farm School study will be conducted by TKSP.
Library: The Library is seeking cost estimates of the work that would need to be done to the building if the renovation is not approved. They have selected Kuhn-Riddle to complete this work. This will provide a firm cost estimate so the Town Council and Board of Library Trustees can make a more informed decision.
Project Update: Destination: Amherst!
Kendrick Park Playground: Staff are working to advance this project as they review the public input on the project.
Performing Arts Shell on the Town Common: The Business Improvement District is working with staff to prepare a more detailed presentation to the Town Council in the near future. The presentation would provide concepts, location, financing, and management suggestions for consideration. The presentation is scheduled before the Town Council on March 23rd.
Parking Structure on Town Land at North Pleasant Street Parking Lot: We will schedule this for the Town Council discussion at an upcoming Town Council meeting.
North Common Restoration/Main Street Parking Lot: The preferred plan has been prepared by the Town’s consultant. This plan, along with other options, will be presented to the Town Council later this year.
Infrastructure Improvements: The Town received a grant to repair a walkway and crosswalks downtown. This work will be designed and work will be done during the construction season.
Hickory Ridge: As reported previously. Awaiting word on the solar program.
East Street School: The Town will be doing additional due diligence to gather additional information on stormwater, wetlands, and the condition of the existing building. Once this work is completed, we will reevaluate the RFP.
North Amherst Library: I presented information to the North Amherst Neighborhood Association on Sunday, February 23rd. I will be working with the anonymous donor to secure the donation in a fund that is accessible to the Town and available to move the project forward.
Solar on the Landfill: As previously reported.