Marshall And McGowan Reappointed To Planning Board


Photo: Blue Diamond Gallery. Creative Commons

Report On The Special Meeting Of The Community Resources Committee (CRC) June 9, 2021

The meeting was held via Zoom and was recorded.


CRC members: Councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke (Chair, at large), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Evan Ross and Steve Schreiber (District 4)

Staff: Angela Mills, Assistant

The purpose of this special meeting was to interview and then select among six candidates for two openings on the Planning board.

The CRC interviewed the six candidates for Planning Board, posing seven questions that had previously been distributed to them. The six candidates were Eric Cochran, Bruce Coldham, Bob Greeney, Doug Marshall, Janet McGowan, and Karin Winter. Marshall has been on the Planning Board for 16 months and McGowan for two years. Statements of Interest from the candidates follow. The selection criteria used for the appointments are listed here.

About the Candidates

Eric Cochran, a recent Masters degree recipient (in Public Policy), pointed to his work as a graduate student on developing policies to serve adults with mental and physical disabilities in Portland, Oregon. He pointed out the need to balance the preservation of community character with the change needed to encourage marginalized residents to be able to reside here. He said he looks at local government as “a force for good.”

Bruce Coldham is a retired architect who served on the Planning Board from 1995 to 2003. He is currently a member of the Local Historic District Commission (LHDC) and pointed to the LHDC deliberation and approval of a greatly improved Amherst Media project last year as an achievement in reaching consensus among abutters, planners, and the applicant. In addition, Coldham was instrumental in establishing the two housing cooperatives in Amherst (Pulpit Hill and Pine Street) and has lately been involved in sustainable building, designing the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, a 2,300-square-foot learning center at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in Whately, and advising on the building committees for the Kern Center at Hampshire and the Hitchcock Center, Amherst’s two living buildings. He also led two successful fundraising campaigns for the North Amherst Community Farm. He cited  his ability to ask probing questions as a special skill.

Robert Greeney teaches physics at Holyoke Community College and serves as an associate member on the Zoning Board of Appeals. He emphasized his ability to bring a new perspective to the Planning Board and his skill at achieving consensus. He stressed the need for a strong Planning Board, not strong individuals. 

Doug Marshall is a registered architect and works as a planner at UMass. He chaired the building committee for the Hitchcock Center. He said that, after 16 months on the Planning Board, he feels he is almost “up to speed” and is familiar with the Master Plan and the Zoning Bylaw. He pointed out that the Planning Board has little power in making changes to zoning. That power lies with the Town Council (and the CRC, a subcommittee of the Town Council). But the Planning Board can propose and evaluate zoning changes and give its recommendations to the Council.

Janet McGowan is an attorney with experience in mediation. In addition to her two years on the Planning Board, she has participated in Zoning Subcommittee meetings for several years. She said she enjoys gathering information and “turning ideas over” in her mind. With her legal background, she feels she brings useful skills to the Planning Board. She also pointed out her desire for a Master Plan Implementation Committee that would help guide development in Amherst.

Karin Winter is a member of the Local Historic District Commission. She stated that she has lived in many places, such as Stuttgart, Germany; Palo Alto; Madison, Wisconsin; Washington, D.C.; and France. These experiences give her fresh perspectives on what is possible for Amherst. For instance, she was a Town Meeting member when the Boltwood parking garage was approved, and envisioned that area as a plaza with surrounding restaurants, rather than a parking garage. She supports increasing density of housing in Amherst, but not in ways that  destroy neighborhoods. She also said that rigidly adherence to zoning bylaws (rather than the intent of the bylaw) might inhibit creativity.

CRC Deliberation
The interviews ended at 8:40 p.m. and were followed by a discussion of the candidates by the CRC members. All candidates received positive comments, but the committee unanimously chose to reappoint Marshall and McGowan to three-year terms.

At the outset of the discussion, Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) read part of a memo from Planning Board Chair Jack Jemsek recommending reappointment of Marshall and McGowan. The recommendation had been removed from the memo when it was distributed to the applicants, but Hanneke had agreed to read it at the deliberation.

In discussing the candidates, Evan Ross said, referring to Cochrane, that it was good to see a “young person” and a “new face” interested in volunteering for the Town, and Bahl-Milne liked his graduate school experience in public policy and working on behalf of people with disabilities.

Dorothy Pam pointed to Greeney’s passion and experience in working toward achieving consensus. Shalini Bahl-Milne liked his stress on the importance of deep listening skills.

Coldham drew praise from Hanneke regarding his impressive experience and innovative proposals, such as the cohousing projects. Pam said that although there are architects on the Planning Board, Coldham’s experience goes way beyond “architecture,” with his work on energy efficiency and zoning amendments. Steve Schreiber called him a “towering figure” in the world of design and energy efficiency. Bahl-Milne liked his work on cohousing and his emphasis on asking probing questions.

Winter was praised by Pam for her ideas about improving communal life. Hanneke noted her valuable experience in living in other communities. Schreiber added that her newspaper columns and emails to the Town Council are always thoughtful. 

Ross said that Marshall has been an effective member of the Planning Board. Schreiber called him qualified and thoughtful, stating he is not political and says what he thinks.

Bahle-Milne said that McGowan brings skills to the Planning Board that are different from other board members’, with her legal experience. She said McGowan is committed and hard working, that she obviously loves the work. She appreciates McGowan’s ability to propose ideas and analyze issues. Ross noted he did not vote for McGowan at her initial appointment and sometimes disagrees with her perspectives and her votes, but praised that she “shows up and does the work.” 

Schreiber said that there are two stellar candidates currently serving on the Planning Board. Neither has completed a three-year term. He saw no reason not to reappoint them. Ross added that the CRC appointed three new members to the Board last fall “and it was absolutely the right thing to do,” but he did not think it would be good for the Board to appoint two more new members.

All CRC members complimented the deep pool of applicants and their qualifications and willingness to volunteer for service to the Town. Those not chosen were encouraged to apply for the openings on the Zoning Board of Appeals (one full member with a three-year term and four associate members with one-year terms). Statements of Interest for those positions are due June 13 for interviews to be conducted on June 23.

The Town Council will vote on the recommended Planning Board candidates at the June 21 meeting.

The special meeting adjourned at 9:32 p.m.

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