Report On The Meeting Of The Town Services and Outreach Committee, June 30, 2022
This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Dorothy Pam (Chair, District 3), Shalini Bahl Milne (District 5), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Anika Lopes (District 4), and Andy Steinberg (at large)
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)
Who Is Responsible For Repairs To The Water Line?
TSO continued its discussion of April 7 about who is responsible for repairs to the water line. Under current policy, the property owner must pay for all repairs from the water main to the house, even if the break is under a town owned road. Other communities use this policy, but some make the town responsible for all repairs up to the property line, and others, such as Springfield, cover all repairs up to the house.
At the April meeting Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring expressed concern about the increased cost to the town of taking on additional repairs from the main to the property line and about being able to find the staff to handle the extra work. In addition, Assistant Superintendent of Public Works Amy Rusiecki said that, for about 20% of homes in Amherst, especially older homes, the DPW does not know where the lines are. They may run under driveways or near trees, and some cross neighboring properties. She said that the town does have excellent records for any house built in the last 10 to 20 years where a permit was pulled, and those records are publicly available.
TSO members were in agreement that the town should cover all repairs up to the property line, although it was not clear which property owner would be responsible if the water line crossed a neighboring property. Homeowners would still be responsible for repairs to driveways and yards involved in fixing the water lines, but not for repairs to the road. Mooring felt that if this is what the town decides, the policy should change without a transition period. However, Rusiecki was worried that staff would be overwhelmed. The matter will be discussed by the full council in the future. Rusiecki said she will assume that the same principle of responsibility will apply when the sewer regulations are rewritten.
In discussing how disputes will be handled, Steinberg thought that, for efficiency’s sake, the Town Manager should decide the matter when a resident disagrees with the DPW ruling on paying for repairs, but Rusiecki noted that having the Town Council decide could provide an educational component for the council and residents and would give the residents a public forum for their complaint to be heard. However, TSO recommended that the Town Manager be the arbiter, although it could be brought to the council if necessary. Pam suggested that disputes be handled within 30 days, and Mooring will make sure that this is in line with other town policies.
Rusiecki noted three instances where restrictions may be placed on water usage:
- Water emergency: the town loses a lot of water in a short-time. In this case the DPW has the authority to inform residents not to use water for a short period of time, until the situation is remedied. The DPW informs the Town Manager of the decision.
- Water Management permit: the state monitors stream flow and mandates limiting of nonessential water usage if levels are too low.
- Water system stress: the town monitors water levels in reservoirs and wells and mandates long-term restrictions if the levels are low. In this case, there is typically some warning. The DPW would act in consultation with the Town Manager and with notification of the council.
Parking Limitations On Lincoln Avenue Considered
Residents of Lincoln Avenue first brought their concerns about unsafe conditions due to densely parked cars on Lincoln Avenue in 2019. The residents noted that two-way traffic is impossible on the street when cars are parked on both sides of the street. Also, residents have difficulty accessing their driveways when cars are parked too close together, and ambulances, delivery trucks, and school buses have sometimes been unable to navigate the street. This situation is a problem during the day when UMass is in session. At other times, few cars are parked on the street.
Steinberg said that the previous council had referred the matter to TSO which formulated a plan to prohibit parking on the east side of Lincoln between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday between September and May. The vote then was 3-1-1 with Evan Ross opposed, but the proposal subsequently failed in a 6-6 tie vote by the entire council on October 18,2021. Some councilors felt that the closure of the north end of Lincoln in November, 2021 due to the construction of dormitories on Massachusetts Avenue would mean there would be less traffic on Lincoln, since cars could no longer use it to enter UMass. However, Jennifer Taub (District 3) who lives on Lincoln Avenue, said that people can still walk or bike to UMass from Lincoln, and the parking situation on the street has actually worsened. She feared what would happen when the dorms are completed in fall of 2023, and there are 800 more residents in the area.
Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) worried about creating greater problems on surrounding streets by limiting parking on Lincoln, but Taub explained that all of the surrounding streets, with the exception of Sunset, have parking restrictions already.
Mooring said that, by the town’s guidelines, Lincoln is not wide enough for any parking if traffic is two-way. Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) noted that if it is a matter of safety, parking should be restricted at all times, not just when UMass is in session, but Taub said that there is not a problem at other times, and residents would like to maintain parking for guests.
Steinberg said that the previous TSO committee had developed criteria to evaluate these types of disputes, such as proximity to downtown or village centers, accident data, and access for school buses and ambulances. He said the committee recommended review by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Disability Access Advisory Committee (DAAC) and a public hearing before parking was changed.
Pam said that when the university is not in session, Lincoln is not different from other streets. Taub said that what the residents were asking for was parking management, not the prohibition of parking. She suggested that maybe a two-hour limit on parking would prevent cars from lining the street all day.
Tracy Zafian, chair of the TAC, said she would put the matter on the agenda for the next meeting, but Town Manager Paul Bockelman said, since UMass is an abutter, the public hearing should be delayed until the fall. He also said that the TSO should formulate a proposal for a parking plan prior to posting the notice of the public hearing, so the posting could include the proposed changes.
At the close of the meeting, Bahl-Milne introduced her initial plan for engaging the public on matters confronting the council. This included identifying the problem and stakeholders, then publicizing the discussion and gathering information.
The meeting adjourned at 9 p.m.