TSO APPROVES FARMERS’ MARKET OPENING AND WAGE THEFT BYLAW

Amherst Farmers' Market. Photo: Amherst Farmers' Market

REPORT: JOINT MEETING OF TOWN SERVICES AND OUTREACH COMMITTEE (TSO) AND TOWN COUNCIL (5/18/20)

The meeting was held as a Zoom webcast and was also recorded for possible future broadcast. It was called to order at 9:32 AM by Town Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) and Town Services Committee (TSO) Chair Darcy Dumont (District 5).

Participating
Town Manager Paul Bockelman

From TSO: Alisa Brewer (At Large), Darcy Dumont (Chair), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Evan Ross (District 4), and George Ryan (District 3). 

From The Town Council: Mandi Jo Hanneke (At Large), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Andy Steinberg (At Large), and Sarah Swartz (District 1)

Guests: John Spineti and David Machowski (Amherst Farmers’ Market), Rob Morra (Building Commissioner), Christine Brestrup (Town Planner), Rose Bookbinder (Pioneer Valley Workers Center), and Laura Clauson (Carpenters’ Union)

Highlights
TSO recommended to the Town Council by unanimous vote that the Amherst Farmers’ Market be allowed to reopen on May 30 with new rules and in a new space on the Town Common, in order to acommondate safety concerns raised by the pandemic.

The TSO recommended by unanimous vote to adopt the proposed new Wage Theft Bylaw and sent it on to GOL for further consideration.

TSO recommended by unanimous vote, a request by the developer of Southeast Commons on Southeast Street to alter the public way. The final decision will be made by the Town Council at their June 1 meeting.

Public Comment
No public comments were offered.

Farmers’ Market
Bockelman revisited the charge from the last Council meeting to explore alternate venues for the Amherst Farmers’ Market (AFM) including the Town Common, which was the location requested by the Farmers’ Market Organizers. The proposed plan  would enable good social distancing and allow space for all of the Farmers’ Market vendors. The organizers have requested permission to open on Saturday, May 30. 

Proposed unidirectional layout for Amherst Farmers’ Market on the South Common.

John Spineti reported that the Market has purchased PPE equipment (masks, sanitizer, handwashing stations, gloves, portable restrooms, Plexiglas). Proper barriers will be in place to separate shoppers from vendors. John Machowski added that The Inn at Boltwood is willing to make restrooms available to vendors but not just yet. The horseshoe design will insure unidirectional traffic flow. There will be one entrance and one exit and that will allow organizers to control the number of shoppers in the market area. The design allows for better monitoring of spacing among patrons. Portable toilets will be set up for vendors, staff, and volunteers.

Steinberg asked if other summer events on the Common have been cancelled. Bockelmam reported that no reservations have been taken for other events on the Common. The Town Health Director, Julie Federman, has requested that the Town discourage large events on the Common.

Councilors expressed concerns about rain and other sources of potential damage to the Common. Bockelman responded that no vehicles will be allowed on the Common. This has been the primary source of damage at past events. Councilors raised additional questions about how waiting lines at the Market entrance will be marked and managed, and where the loading zones will be located. 

Machowski responded that the queue will begin near the market tent and if it is not raining, he will chalk lines and markings. The line will extend from the market tent toward the Spring Street parking lot and then east down Spring Street. He noted that it will be good to start small and that he is only expecting about 20 vendors to be working opening week with a maximum limit for the season set at 32 vendors/week. 

Bockelman noted that there will be a virtual or online market where shoppers can pre-order and then pick up their produce. Space has been reserved for this pickup. Machowski emphasized that shoppers will not be able to touch produce and that masks will be required for vendors, staff, and customers. He also noted that customers can bring their own bags but vendors will not be allowed to handle them, nor will customers be allowed to return goods once they have been placed in a patron’s bag.

Councilors were also concerned about keeping customers informed and up-to-date on rules and arrangements, and said that this should be an obligation of the Farmers’ Market organizers. Machowski responded that the AFM is disseminating information on Facebook, Instagram and the AFM newsletter. He said that this has proven to be an effective way to reach AFM patrons in the past.

Hanneke asked about the management of long lines of customers, and conjectured that while there could be 1,000+ patrons at peak, the plan is to limit entry into the market space at 30. Maorra responded that the plan is to fence off about one-half of an acre of open space and see how that works. Ross noted that his own practice is to check out all of the vendors first and then go back to patronize the ones who have what he is looking for, and said he wonders if that would be possible with the new arrangements. Machowski responded that since the traffic flow is unidirectional, backtracking will not be possible and that customers who wish to return to a vendor will have to exit, wait on line, and then re-enter when it is their turn. Bockelman recommended posting a list of the vendors and their offerings at the entrance so that people can plan their shopping. Machowski said that vendors will provide as much advance information online (including the capability to pre-order) as they can.

MOTION: TSO recommended unanimously that the Town Council permit the Farmers’ Market to open on Saturday, May 23 and to run on consecutive Saturdays through November 21, 2020 in compliance with all of the operational guidelines discussed here and set out in the Town Manager’s memo of April 30, 2020. Look here for details of the plan. (editor’s note: in the subsequent discussion by the full Council at their meeting later the same evening, an opening date of Saturday May 30. was approved 12-1-0).

Wage Theft Bylaw
TSO resumed its discussion of the proposed new Wage Theft Bylaws that have been central to discussions at its previous two meetings . Hanneke, one of the three Councilors sponsoring the legislation, pointed out that the sponsors had taken the feedback they had received into account and had revised the proposed bylaws accordingly, combining what had been three ordinances into two, with no substantive changes. She noted that language had been added to prevent a business from circumventing the law by reorganizing under a new name. The new drafts can be read here and here.

The sponsors also prepared a FAQ that summarizes the bylaws and their rationale. That can be read here.

Brewer and Ross thanked the sponsors (Hanneke, DeAngelis and Schoen) for being so responsive to the concerns of the Council. Ross requested a walk-through of what filing a complaint would actually look like for an employee. 

Brewer pointed out that the review of complaints under the new bylaws would be the responsibility of the Town’s Human Rights Director and that the Town does not have a Human Rights Director right now. She also noted that the Town’s Human Rights Bylaw is significantly out of date and doesn’t accommodate the restrictions of open meeting law. DeAngelis pointed out that Jennifer Moyston and Evelyn Rivera-Riffenburg currently share the duties of the Human Rights Director. 

Schoen and Ross spoke about ways to get information about the proposed bylaw out to the public, noting that posting should include the Town website,and  in the workplace.

Pam asked for (and received) assurance of confidentiality for workers filing complaints.

Ross asked if TSO has been able to get a comment from the Town’s Procurement Officer or from other town services. Bockelman said that he has not had an explicit conversation with the Procurement Officer concerning the Wage Theft Bylaws. He said that procurement already requires compliance with an array of laws and that these would be added to them. Schoen pointed out that the Town already has a Responsible Employer Bylaw “on the books” and that it impacts procurement. “We have added some steps to strengthen it but it’s not entirely new for the process,” she said. Bockelman said that he will follow up with Procurement.

MOTIONS: TSO voted unanimously (5-0) to recommend adoption of the proposed Wage Theft Bylaws. The proposal next goes to the Government, Operations and Legislation Committee (GOL) and then to the Town Council.. 

Southeast Commons Project
TSO considered a request to alter a public way as part of the Southeast Commons Project, a three-story mixed-use building located at 133/143 Southeast Street that will include 57 studio apartments, 1,200 square feet of commercial space, and 65 parking spaces. The project has already been approved by the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission. 

The high-water table in the area will require the developer to grade a gentle slope down to the sidewalk, and this will require alteration of the public way (altering the grade in front of the building down to the sidewalk on Southeast Street and constructing a cutout for a bus stop on Southeast Street), which requires a recommendation from the TSO and approval of the Town Council. 

For a copy of the full request look here.

Look here and here for past reporting on the Planning Board’s consideration of the project.

Dumont expressed concern about the development as a whole, saying that this project does not meet the Town’s housing needs. “We don’t need more one-bedroom units. We need units that are affordable and solar-ready,” she said. She said she would like to see new developments address the needs of the Town.

Pam complained that the developer was given all kinds of special accommodations and yet was not required to build any affordable housing. “He built the two handicapped units because he was required to, and he said he was not building affordable units because he said he was not required to,” she said. She expressed frustration that the Town is granting permits for developers to build right up to the public way, but is not requiring them to build anything affordable. 

Ross, however, pointed out that affordable housing is not under the purview of TSO and added that the matter before them was simply to determine whether the developer should be allowed to alter the public way.

TSO was asked to make a recommendation to the developer about the Design Review Board suggestions..

TSO voted unanimously to recommend the request for alterations to the public way to the Town Council. A decision is expected at the June 1 Council meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 11:50 a.m.

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