Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council, January 23, 2023
This meeting was held entirely over Zoom due to the weather. The recording can be viewed here.
Councilors: President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Ellisha Walker, Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), Michele Miller and Cathy Schoen (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub and Dorothy Pam (District 3), Anika Lopes and Pam Rooney (District 4), and Ana Devlin Gauthier and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5). Michele Miller (District 1), Ellisha Walker (at large), and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)
Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)
This meeting took place after the Special Town Meeting with the School Committee and Finance Committee about the plans for the new elementary school.
- Plan For real estate transfer fee submitted to state legislature
- Council adopts proclamations for Black History Month and Lunar New Year/Spring Festival
- Council Urges Eversource to replace new poles on South East Street with underground service
- UMass’ Donahue Institute to evaluate CRESS program
- New council liaisons to town committees appointed
- President’s report for December filed
Plan For Real Estate Transfer Fee Submitted To State Legislature
Councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) proposed that the town levy a 2% fee on property transfers for homes selling at 200% or more over the mean Amherst home value, currently $400,000. Proceeds would go to support creation of affordable housing in town and would be disbursed among the Amherst Municipal Housing Trust, the general fund, and the capital fund. The first $250,000 would go to the Housing Trust and any amount over that would be divided three ways among the three aforementioned funds. The town would need to receive approval of the state before it could levy the fee, so the council voted unanimously to send the proposal to the legislature, as recommended by the Finance Committee.
Several councilors voiced concern about specifics of the transfer fee levy, but Hanneke said that the details could be worked out in the development of the actual bylaw if the special act is approved. Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) said the bylaw should allow for flexibility so it could be modified over time depending on the real estate market. Concerns from members of the public would be heard during discussion of the bylaw.
Black History Month And Lunar New Year Proclamations
As part of the consent agenda, the council unanimously approved proclamations for Black History month and Lunar New Year. In presenting the proclamation naming February as Black History Month, Dorothy Pam (District 3) read, “Now, therefore, we the Town Council of the Town of Amherst, do hereby proclaim the month of February in the year of 2023 as Black History Month, and urge all residents to mark this occasion, and to participate fittingly in its observance, beginning with a flag-raising ceremony on February 1, 2023, at 6:00 pm, and continuing with celebrations and recognitions throughout the month.” Pam co-sponsored the measure with Councilors Anika Lopes (District 4) and Griesemer, along with resident Debora Bridges and the Human Rights Commission.
Hanneke read the proclamation for Lunar New Year. The Amherst Human Rights Commission will sponsor a celebration in the Amherst Regional Middle School cafeteria on Sunday, January 29 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Hanneke read, “Now Therefore, we the Town Council of the Town of Amherst, do hereby proclaim January 22, 2023 as the beginning of the Spring Festival, and urge all residents to join the 15-day celebration of the Year of the Rabbit, beginning with a celebration and reading of the Town’s Spring Festival/Lunar New Year Celebration Proclamation on January 29, 2023 at the Amherst Regional Middle School, so that families may celebrate on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.” Griesemer and the Human Rights Commission were also sponsors.
Council Urges Eversource To Replace New Poles On South East Street With Underground Service
The council held a public hearing on Eversource’s request to place two additional utility poles on South East Street to provide service to the South East Street Court, a mixed use building being constructed to the south of the plaza containing Florence Bank. Hanneke asked Eversource representative Jesse Martin if the added service could be provided by placing the lines underground. Pam and Devlin Gauthier agreed, with Devlin Gauthier saying that putting utilities underground is not only more pleasing aesthetically, but also is more protective against damage to lines due to falling branches during storms.
Martin said there would be little chance of endangering the existing water main by placing the electrical lines underground, since water mains are typically six to seven feet underground, and electrical conduits are usually three feet under. The owner of the building would be responsible for the extra cost of placing the electrical lines under the street. Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) seemed hesitant to place extra costs on the developer, Amir Mikhchi, but other councilors voiced support for the underground conduit. The council requested that Eversource amend its plan to include the underground lines and bring it back to the council at the next meeting.
UMass’ Donahue Institute To Evaluate CRESS Program
The grant for the CRESS program from the Department of Public Health requires that the program establish a means of evaluation. The council recommended by a vote of 9-1-1 that the Town Manager sign an agreement with the Donahue Institute at UMass to set up a means of data collection and do a six-month review of the CRESS program. Griesemer recused herself because she is the former head of the Donahue Institute and still does some consulting for it. Lopes (District 4) left the meeting before this discussion.
Both Bahl-Milne and Ellisha Walker (District 5) questioned why other institutes, such as the LEAP (Law Enforcement Action Partnership) program were not considered to do the evaluation. Walker noted that LEAP helped the Community Safety Working Group develop the plan for the CRESS program. Finance Director Sean Mangano said that the contract with LEAP ended and that the town is now under a time constraint because of the terms of the DPH grant, and the Donahue Institute is local. Town Manager Paul Bockelman added that program evaluation is a particular strength of the Donahue Institute.
Walker voted against entering the agreement with the Donahue Institute, and Michele Miller (District 1) abstained.
New Council Liaisons To Town Committees Appointed
For the coming year, the following councilors will serve as liaisons to town committees:
Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust: Jennifer Taub. Alternate Pat DeAngelis Board of Health: Michele Miller
Community Preservation Act Committee: Pam Rooney
Community Safety and Social Justice Committee: Dorothy Pam
Disability Access Advisory Committee: DeAngelis
Energy and Climate Action Committee: Ellisha Walker
Planning Board: Rooney
Recreation Commission: DeAngelis
Transportation Advisory Committee: Andy Steinberg
President’s Report For December Filed
In her December report, Griesemer listed the meetings that she has attended. In addition, she noted the plans for Winterfest, beginning January 28 and continuing the next two weekends. She also said that the Cultural Council is considering holding a spring block party on May 19.
Pat DeAngelis (District 2) said she is developing a special act to allow for noncitizens to vote in local elections in coordination with several other towns.
Andy Steinberg (at Large) noted that 2023 is the 30th year of Amherst’s sister-city relationship with Kanegazaki, Japan. He wondered how to commemorate the anniversary and also suggested a discussion about whether the town should continue the relationship.
New optical scanning voting machines were approved on the consent agenda.
The meeting adjourned at 8:43 p.m. The council will next meet on February 6.