Letter: The Best Interests Of UMass And The Town Of Amherst Are Not Always Identical

Photo: amherst.edu

The flap over a ‘workers pavilion’ is a good example of of how, while the fate of Amherst is tied to the University, not all that the University does – or wants to do – is good for Amherst.  The proposed location of the pavilion, on the fringe of campus in North Amherst, is already acutely feeling the strain of single family – to – student rental conversions.  The project would have further increased the impact of UMass on this part of town.

While I do think that Chancellor Subbaswamy has been great for UMass, to reiterate, not everything great for UMass is necessarily good for the town of Amherst and its residents.  e.g.: It has been a boon that UMass has grown into the state’s flagship university.  But the fact that it did so before adding adequate dorm space has meant problems for the town.  The Chancellor was quoted to the effect that Amherst’s problems with student rental housing (distortion of real estate values, and the disruption of residential neighborhoods) were not the University’s problems.  True enough, but the statement failed to acknowledge that the University’s decisions to grow and not address the issues of student housing and the effects students have by moving into residential neighborhoods has resulted in skewed property values, and a decrease in the quality of life for those living in town.  Even UMass faculty are now having problems finding affordable housing.  He also failed to acknowledge that Amherst is in a fairly unique situation, i.e.: it is one of the smallest towns in the country to host a flagship university.  This has only exacerbated the problems posed by the University’s growth.

It is the role of Amherst town government to look out for the welfare of its residents.  This includes standing up to the University when the interests of Amherst’s residents and UMass diverge.  However, since the rearrangement of the town’s governance, from a town meeting to a town council/town manager system, the Town Council has been dominated by a group (Amherst Forward) that has shown a striking deference to the University and little regard for the issues affecting the majority of Amherst’s residents, concentrating instead on ‘economic development’ (read: real estate sales and rentals), and rezoning the downtown to favor wealthy developers who have little or no connection to the local community.  When concerns were voiced to Town Council about the proposed ‘workers’ pavilion’, the official response was essentially, this isn’t our concern, you need to write the chancellor.  Regrettably, unless one is involved real estate transactions, it seems governing Amherst is a do-it-yourself affair.  

John Varner

John Varner is a resident of Amherst,

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