Town Council Approves New Rental Registration Bylaw


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Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Town Council April 8, 2024

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


  • Council passes new Rental Registration bylaw.
  • Activities for town’s Kindness Campaign announced.
  • Valley Bike Shares is returning to the area.
  • Work on trails at Hickory Ridge progressing.
  • Multi-use path is planned for portion of North Pleasant Street from UMass to Pine Street.
  • Policy for disposition of surplus town property introduced.
  • Councilor liaisons to town committees announced.
  • Council appeals to state legislature in support of bills to increase PILOT payments to towns from tax-exempt entities.
  • Town seeks a grant for an engineering study of Puffer’s Pond in preparation for needed repairs to the dike and dam.

Lynn Griesemer (President, District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke, Andy Steinberg, Ellisha Walker (at large), Freke Ette and Cathy Schoen (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Hala Lord and George Ryan (District 3), Pam Rooney and Jennifer Taub (District 4), Ana Devlin Gauthier and Bob Hegner (District 5). Walker, Hanneke, and Lord participated remotely.

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

New Residential Rental Registration and Inspection Bylaw Approved
Pam Rooney (District 4), Chair of the Community Resources Committee (CRC), presented the updated version of the Rental Registration bylaw (general bylaw 3.50) that the committee has been working on for two years. The first reading of the proposed changes was at the April 1 council meeting. The revised bylaw requires all rental properties to be inspected every five years at a cost of $150. The cost of registration was increased from $100 to $150 plus $100 for each additional unit. However, owner-occupied properties of up to six units will pay $100 for registration, the same amount they are currently required to pay.

The program will be instituted over the next year, with inspections beginning July of 2025. Two new inspectors will be hired. (There is currently one inspector.) The program will be partially paid for by the strategic agreement between the town and UMass. 

The current rental registration relies on landlords self-certifying that their properties are safe. Town inspections are only done after complaints from renters or neighbors. Building Commissioner Rob Morra said that in the few inspections currently undertaken, inspectors often find violations that have “obviously existed for some time.” He said many dangerous problems in residential structures are not visible from the street.

Bob Hegner (District 5) and Cathy Schoen (District 1) did not support the new bylaw. Hegner thought the proposal was “overkill for a problem that has not really been defined.” He said, “We don’t know how many rental properties are really problems, and we don’t know where they are.” Schoen spoke for a more targeted approach, guided by the pending Nuisance House bylaw. She called the proposal “a bureaucracy of inspectors inspecting places that right now we don’t have any major concerns [about].”

George Ryan (District 3) disagreed, saying, “This is an issue of public health and safety. It’s sort of a catch-22. You say, ‘We don’t know that there are any problem properties’ [but] you can’t find where the properties are unless you inspect them.” His main concern was that the cost of the inspections would be passed down to renters. Ellisha Walker (at large) had the same concern. She noted that, as a college student, it was hard to find a rental unit that was in good shape and well maintained, but she could not support anything that would increase rents, because of the hardship that would cause for many renters.

CRC member Jennifer Taub (District 4) said that the Nuisance House bylaw would rarely trigger an interior inspection. Morra explained that many nuisance house complaints are about exterior problems, such as cars parked on the lawn or trash strewn about. He noted that noise complaints are usually handled by the Amherst police. Taub noted that many communities in the Commonwealth have regular inspections of rental properties. Lowell inspects rental units every three years. Boston does inspections every five years as well as  whenever a property turns over to a new renter. Rooney pointed out that the inspection cost is actually $30 per year over the five-year period.

Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) said she was frustrated by the fact that the cost of the new program would be passed on to renters. She added that even when there is a legitimate reason to impose a new fee, the town gets blamed for the rent increase. She said, “This is a market where folks are already charging what they can— that’s how capitalism works.” She continued, “We need to be able to know that we’re providing safe housing. We need to start somewhere, and this is a great start.”

Morra pointed out that the inspections are the easy part. Following up to make sure that violations are corrected is going to be challenging. 

In public comment, rental property owner Tom Crossman complained about the extra time required for his staff to accompany an inspector for the inspection of a unit. Arash Hashemi thought the town should not be devoting time and effort to issues like rental registration when the roads (and sidewalks) are in such poor shape that they constitute a safety hazard.

The new bylaw and fee structure passed by a vote of 8-4. Voting against it were Hegner, Schoen, Walker, and Freke Ette (District 1). Hala Lord (District 3) was absent for the vote.

Town Launches “Kindness Campaign”
Public Health Director Kiko Malin introduced the town’s “Kindness Campaign,” sponsored by the Public Health and Recreation Departments, which began February 29 and will conclude April 27. The campaign’s slogan is “Be kind. It’s good for your mind.” Events included: “Mindfulness” with Shalini Bahl-Milne on March 27, “Question, Persuade, and Refer” on April 10 and 17, “The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to a Happier You and Brighter World” with Hala Lord on April 24, and the town-wide clean-up day on April 27. There is also an ongoing food and diaper drive to benefit the Amherst Survival Center and the early education program at Crocker Farm School. Donation boxes are at the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, the mezzanine at Town Hall, and the Recreation Department at the Bangs Center.

More information can be found on the Engage Amherst website.

Valley Bike Shares Returning
Acting Town Manager David Ziomek and Sustainability Director Stephanie Ciccarello reported that area towns are contracting with a new provider to reinstate the Valley Bike Shares electric bicycle program, which had been extremely popular from 2018 to 2022. Because the previous vendor went bankrupt, there has not been a shared bicycle program for the past year. However, a new vendor has been found; with the authorization of the Town Council, the Town Manager can enter into an intermunicipal governmental agreement with, according to the proposal, “Chicopee, Easthampton, Holyoke, Northampton, Springfield, South Hadley, West Springfield and such other municipalities that join later, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The MOU creates a shared regional collaboration for the purposes of managing and operating the Valley Bike share system.” The three-year contract will be supported with town’s sustainability funds that will be offset by user fees. 

The council agreed unanimously to join the bicycle sharing programs, but Schoen requested that another station be built in North Amherst. 

Update on Hickory Ridge
The town will begin creating accessible trails at the site of the previous Hickory Ridge Golf Course. Ziomek said that the trails connecting the housing to the north to the property and also to West Street, as well as the one-mile loop trail, should be completed by the end of summer. These will be six-foot wide trails of bituminous stone that are suitable for strollers, bicycles, and wheelchairs. Other areas will have narrower trails for running and cross-country skiing. Ziomek emphasized that major aims for the property are restoring the natural habitat and river ecology and providing an off-the-road connection to the nearby neighborhoods. The project received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the golf course irrigation system as part of the restoration.

The 27-acre solar installation and battery storage facility at the site is still undergoing permitting. The developer,Pure Sky, is working closely with the fire department to ensure the safety of the battery storage component. It is hoped that the project will be completed within the year. Pure Sky has a 20-year lease for the property, and will be making payments to the town when the project is operational. As part of its agreement with the town, Pure Sky is required to restore 17 acres of adjacent land along the Fort River.

The town is still considering possible uses for the five or six acres of developable land near the site of the existing clubhouse and parking lot. Ziomek showed renderings of a possible fire station, community building, affordable housing, or a combination of projects. He said that the  clubhouse is in poor condition and will be demolished. There is water, sewer, and electrical service to the site.

Multi-use Path Planned for North Pleasant Street
The DPW plans to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to create a five-foot-wide path for pedestrians and bicycles along North Pleasant Street from Pine Street to Eastman Lane. [Note: five feet is considered a minimal width for a lane that is not adjacent to a parking lane. Wider bike lanes are recommended on streets where pedestrian traffic in the bike lane is anticipated, especially in college towns according to]. The path will be on the west side of the street from UMass until Crestview Apartments and then will cross the street at a newly created crosswalk and continue north on the east side of the street. There will also be a new bus stop, created with a pull-out, near Old Town Lane. DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring said that this plan has been in the making for the past 10 years. The plan will involve some easements from landowners to widen the sidewalk.

Schoen thought that the $542,000 cost for widening a short span of sidewalk was too expensive, and that the sidewalks north of Pine Street were in much worse shape. However, Ryan pointed out that this is a densely populated part of town and a heavily used stretch of road. He noted that there was a pedestrian fatality in 2019. Mooring stated that the person who was killed by a car was “not crossing in a crosswalk and was wearing dark clothes at night.” He said that the car was not speeding, so it is “unlikely” that the proposed changes would have prevented the accident. 

Regarding the cost to the town, Mooring said that the town’s CDBG funds can only be used in certain target areas and that UMass will contribute to the cost. The Town Services and Outreach Committee of the council reviewed the project and unanimously recommended it. The council voted 11-0-1 in support of the project. Schoen abstained, and Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) was absent for the vote.

First Reading of Revised Surplus Property Policy
The Finance Committee recommended an updated policy on the handling of town-owned property that the town determines not to be usable. The policy would come into play if the Town Manager determines that a property is “surplus” (see below) and could be sold, leased, or transferred. The updated policy states:

“When such a request is made, the Town Manager shall provide the Town Council with a memorandum that includes the following information: 

1. A description of the property including its past uses, current use, foreseeable future governmental or public uses, and any structures thereon, including the dates of any additions or major renovations, the condition of the structures, and critical components, such as HVAC. 

2. Whether the property is held for a specific purpose and/or under the custody of a particular board or officer that would require a change in use and/or transfer of custody pursuant to M.G.L. c. 40, Section 15A, and if so, a recommendation from that board or officer. 

3. A map of the property and abutting parcels. 

4. The existing zoning status of the property. 

5. Projected annual revenues and costs associated with the property

6. Analysis of alternative uses for the property, including public benefits and drawbacks, development potential, environmental impact, and financial impact for each alternative. 

7. A summary of reasons for deeming the property surplus, including any analyses that aided the Town Manager in reaching that conclusion.

  8. An independently prepared appraisal of the property’s fair market value, including any salvage value of materials. 

9. Restrictions that may be placed on the property prior to sale. 

10. Recommended action, including a recommended minimum amount the Town shall be paid for the property.”

Before the property can be disposed of, there must be a public hearing. A two-thirds vote of the council is required, unless the property will be used for housing, which requires a majority vote. It is likely that, for a complex property like Wildwood School, the Town Manager would form a committee to provide the required information on the site. Rooney was interested in defining the process that leads to a property being declared “surplus” and requested a list of all town-owned property that is currently not being used. Council Clerk Athena O’Keeffe, who helped draft the policy, stated that no current town-owned property has been deemed “surplus”.

The Surplus Property Policy will be further discussed and voted on at an upcoming meeting.

Councilor Liaisons to Town Committees
The following councilors will be liaisons to town committees for the rest of 2024:

Transportation Advisory Committee: George Ryan
Council on Aging: Jennifer Taub
Disability Access Advisory Committee: Pat DeAngelis
Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust: George Ryan
Community Safety and Social Justice Committee: Hala Lord
Board of Health: Andy Steinberg
Energy and Climate Action: Freke Ette
Community Preservation Act Committee: Jennifer Taub
Conservation Commission: Ana Devlin Gauthier

Council Approves Letter in Support of Bill for PILOT Payments
Bills pending in the Massachusetts Senate and House (S.1896 and H. 2063) would require tax exempt entities to pay 25% of would-be owed property tax to the municipalities in which they are located. This would apply to Amherst and Hampshire colleges, but not to UMass. Council President Lynn Griesemer shared a letter in support of the bills to send on behalf of the council.

Puffer’s Pond
Ziomek reported that the town has applied for a $250,000 grant for an engineering study on the dike and dam at Puffer’s Pond. The study will tell the depth of the pond and the depth of the sediment, and core samples will be taken to determine the composition of the sediment. Councilors asked about dredging the pond, but Ziomek said that would be a future decision and that the repair of the dike and dam is more urgent. 

The meeting was adjourned at 10 p.m. The council will hold a special meeting on April 29 to discuss the Regional School budget.

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2 thoughts on “Town Council Approves New Rental Registration Bylaw

  1. Good afternoon Maura,

    I hope it didn’t sound like I was complaining. I was communicating the consequences of implementing this bylaw and how it will impact everyone in our community, from the residents, to the property managers and the towns staff and that increase in cost will have to be accounted for in the rents to cover the cost of doing business in Amherst.

    I was hoping you would have considered what I said before publishing that I was “complaining about the extra time this would cost our staff”. I would be happy to discuss this further with you so you understand the impact a little better.

    The people who will suffer the most from this bylaw are the most vulnerable population in our community who are already living underneath a great amount of strain due to rising costs. This Amendment will be more hurtful than helpful.

  2. In light of the first reading of a Revised Surplus Property Policy, I am curious to know if any provisions might be made going forward for town-owned properties that are deemed historic (using existing State and Local criteria) and/or in some way historically meaningful to citizens of Amherst.

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