Council Passes Resolution for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care and Adopts Specialized Stretch Building Code


Photo: mental health care coalition on Twitter.

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Town Council Meeting, October 2, 2023

This meeting was conducted in hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here

In Town Hall: Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), Pam Rooney and Anika Lopes (District 4), and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5). Participating remotely: Dorothy Pam (District 3) Michele Miller (District 1), and Ellisha Walker (at large). Absent: Cathy Schoen (District 1) and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5).

Staff: Dave Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Bylaw Affirming Access to Legally Protected Reproductive Care and Resolution for Medicare for All
The council passed unanimously (11-0, with 2 absent) a resolution protecting access to legally protected reproductive and gender affirming care, co-sponsored by Councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) and Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5). Safe access to reproductive and gender-affirming care is recognized by the state, but this bylaw goes beyond those provisions. According to Devlin Gauthier, its purpose is to prohibit the disclosure of personal information and the use of town funds to impede these rights or assist abusive litigation.

Also, affirmed by a unanimous vote was a resolution supporting efforts at the state level to establish Medicare for all in Massachusetts. This resolution was  co-sponsored by Hanneke, Pam Rooney (District 4), and Dorothy Pam (District 3), along with community sponsor Barbara Pearson. The resolution asks state and federal representatives to work toward a “single payer system of universal health care that provides all Massachusetts residents with comprehensive health care coverage, including the freedom to choose doctors and other health care professionals, facilities, and services, and eliminates the role of insurance companies in health care by creating an insurance trust fund that is publicly administered.”

Energy and Climate Action Committee Presents Annual Report 
Chair of the Energy and Climate Action Committee (ECAC) Laurie Goldner presented their extensive annual report to the council. In the report, the ECAC advocated for increasing the sustainability of new and existing buildings by adopting the specialized stretch code and replacing fossil fuels in heating and cooling by adopting community choice aggregation, promoting installation of solar panels, and adopting the PACE program for rental and commercial buildings. The committee also supports further transition of the town vehicle fleet to electronic vehicles, expanding EV charging stations, and adopting the Transportation Advisory Committee’s Pedestrian and Bicycle plan. In addition, the ECAC recommended the creation of a full-time director position to apply for and administer grants. 

Councilor Andy Steinberg (at large) contended that it will be difficult to add any new positions, because next year is anticipated to be a “tough budget year.” But Goldner said that Sustainability Director Stephanie Ciccarello has many other duties and cannot take advantage of the many grants for energy efficiency now available under the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Ciccarello said that the town needs the full-time position long-term if it is to meet its climate goals. The ECAC recommended making these sustainability goals part of the town manager’s goals for the coming year. 

Specialized Stretch Code Recommended by ECAC and Inspection Services
Amherst has already adopted a stretch code to promote energy efficiency, but a specialized building code mandates that new housing construction not use fossil fuels and gives added energy guidelines for multifamily and commercial housing. The specialized code is recommended by the ECAC, and the building commissioner and inspectors. 

Steinberg said he has been asked by constituents how this new code can save money. Building Commissioner Rob Morra said that installing heat pumps at the time of construction costs less than adding them later, and Ciccarello noted that residents will save money on fuel costs over the long term. She added that there are incentives through Mass Save promoting energy efficient measures for low-income residents, and that the ECAC is working on a dashboard on its website to be a single place where residents can find information about sustainability.

Town Moves Ahead on Creation of Safety Zones
Responding to the concerns of parents and staff at the Cushman-Scott Children’s Center on Henry Street regarding speeding cars and increased vehicular traffic in front of the center, the council took the first step in creating safety zones to establish lower speed limits where vulnerable users are likely to be present with an 11–0 vote. Safety zones reduce speed limits to 20 miles per hour near daycare centers, playgrounds, senior housing, and places with likely use by those with disabilities. Safety issues around the children’s center were first brought to the council in 2021 and were referred to the Town Safety and Outreach (TSO) Committee, but were not dealt with until recently. 

After the adoption of the ability to create safety zones, the town must conduct surveys of traffic flow and speeds around concerning areas in order to recommend where safety zones should be established. Because these studies will require the cooperation of the Department of Public Works, the police department, and the town engineer, Steinberg recommended that furthering this initiative be part of the town manager’s goals. Rooney suggested that the Transportation Advisory committee (TAC) be involved, and Jennifer Taub (District 3) said she wants TSO to keep the rest of the council informed on the progress of the measure. Council Clerk Athena O’Keeffe noted that a discussion of townwide speed limits was sent to the TSO in 2021 and has not yet been discussed.

While the town is evaluating potential locations for safety zones, it has instituted a flashing “your speed” indicator at the above-mentioned childcare center that seems to be slowing down traffic. Cushman-Scott parent Jeremy Andersen said that the town is looking into placing speed humps there and reconfiguring the center’s parking lot so that children do not have to cross the street.

Update on Hickory Ridge
Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek said that the PureSky (formerly Amp) solar project on 27 acres of the 150-acre former golf course site at Hickory Ridge has experienced so many supply chain and weather-related delays that some of its permits have expired, and it will have to go before the Conservation Commission to update its permit. Ziomek anticipated that construction will resume this winter for completion in 2024. The energy produced by the solar array will go to Springfield, although Amherst will receive a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) that is greater than what the golf course paid in property taxes. There will be battery storage associated with the solar array. 

For the rest of the parcel, Ziomek said the town plans to demolish the existing clubhouse, but this may require the allocation of town funds for the cost of the demolition. The wetlands administrator has done a full survey of the site in a plan to restore the ecology that existed before the golf course was created. There is a draft for a plan for a trail system that would  connect the site to dwellings to the north and south and to the Pomeroy Village center. The trails would require some easements over private property, but the town has secured a $400,000 Park grant to fund the trails. The first project will be construction of an accessible trail from the existing parking lot. Councilor Pat DeAngelis (District 2)  reminded the council that the town should involve the Disability Access Advisory Committee early in the process of designing the accessible trail.

Ziomek thought that about five or six acres of the remaining site, mostly around the clubhouse and parking lot, are dry enough to be buildable. Suggestions for use include a community center, the South Amherst fire station, affordable housing, and a community garden. He emphasized making sure that there is adequate room for mountain biking and cross-country skiing trails. 

The meeting adjourned at 8:49 p.m. Because the town manager was attending a conference elsewhere, the report of the African Heritage Reparations Assembly was postponed until the October 16 meeting. See xxxxx (LINK COMING)  for concerns raised about the CRESS community responder program.

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