Wednesday, September 2, 2015

DUI Deluge

APD arrested five (5) impaired drivers over the weekend

The sad/scary thing is if APD had the staffing I'm sure we would see five drunk driving arrests practically every weekend rather than just when state grant money provides the extra coverage.

Either way, last weekend too many great white sharks shared our ecosystem.   Although fortunately nobody was hurt. This time. 

With UMass dorms opening on Friday and no school on Monday because of Labor Day, this long weekend could be a potential record breaker for DUIs.

   Brian Kenney, age 29

Mark Emery age 21
Kyle Coffee, age 23


Four of the five were arraigned before Judge Payne and released on their personal recognizance with trial dates set for later this month or October.  Juveline Tavares age 39 required a Portuguese interpreter so he was arraigned later in the day (hence no photo).

Ruth Castonguay failed to appear in District Court on Monday and Judge Payne issued a bench warrant for her arrest.  He is holding it until Friday because a friend called to say she had checked herself into a medical detox center after her arrest.  

Thanks Amherst College!

Amherst College knows how to be a good neighbor

Yeah, yeah, yeah cynics will say  -- after all this is the Internet -- that when you have an endowment over $2 billion, anything measured in mere tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands is chicken feed.

But the point is Amherst College is a tax-exempt entity and as such is not forced to pay anything for Amherst Fire Department's high quality service.

Besides, they do pay property taxes on all the houses they own and maintain so nicely.   As well as the two commercial businesses that have been around forever:  Downtown anchor Lord Jeff Inn and the 9 hole Amherst Golf Course, which unlike our own Cherry Hill, actually makes money.

Last year those total taxes came to $502,080, or a cool half million.

Click photos to enlarge
 Lord Jeff pays property taxes like any other business in town

On Monday night just before the 9/11 flag controversy came up for discussion, Comptroller Sonia Aldrich mentioned that Amherst College, our #1 landowner in town,  had increased their "gift" last year from $90,000 to $130,000 .

They don't like to call it a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes because it then ties them in to an expected annual payment but they have been paying it annually for almost ten years now.  The first year it was $120,000 but all the other years it has been $90,000.

The payment is for Amherst Fire Department services, so as far as I'm concerned if it looks like a pilot, and flies like a pilot, then it's a PILOT.

That extra $40,000 -- a 44% increase over last year -- is enough to fund one new starting firefighter position (not counting employee benefits).

UMass on the other hand is now over three years behind for re signing the previous "5 Year Strategic Agreement," which currently pays us around $375,000 for the over $1 million in services they get from overworked AFD.
 New Amherst College Greenway Dorms (4 residence halls) will be protected by AFD as will the new 230,000 square foot new Science Center

Sign Of The Times?

Parking enforcement on scene Town Hall for beheaded sign (left).  At least they left the pole

Yes one of the more minor aggravations we will have to put up with as our population begins to double with the return of "college aged youth": stolen street signs.

 Sign near Hastings still there

Why you would want a "15 minute parking" sign in your dorm room is beyond me -- especially if you  place it near a bed.

Property owner Jeff Brown is hoping the town will install those 15 minute (free) parking signs in front of his commercial building on Triangle Street immediately adjacent to Kendrick Place.

 Jeff Brown owns the concrete contiguous with Triangle Street

This would keep tenants and or contractors of the new building from tying up valuable parking spots.

And with the town's highly efficient Parking Management doing the enforcement, increasing revenues to the town over violations.

Living in the shadow of Kendrick Place

A double win.

A Presidential Expansion

Presidential Apartments, nine new buildings with plenty of parking

Kendrick Place, with 36 units/104 tenants, wasn't the only new apartment complex to open for business yesterday.  Presidential Apartments, built back in the 1960s, opened an entire new cluster of nine buildings holding 54 units/96 tenants.

But unlike Kendrick Place, six of those units will be "affordable" thereby adding to the town's Subsidized Housing Index which currently stands at 11.18%.

Any community in Massachusetts with an SHI lower than 10% is open to a Ch40B development that allows bypassing of local zoning ordinances for a housing project with at least 20% of the units subsidized.

 Moving in yesterday

"College aged youth" currently make up 59% of Amherst's population because of course UMass, our #1 employer. 

Kendrick Place and Presidential Apartments are, like bookends, conveniently located on either side of our flagship of higher education. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Kendrick Place: Open For Business

Kendrick Place, Saturday
Kendrick Place, Sunday

The mixed-use five story building that has forever changed the face of downtown Amherst's north end is now open, having been issued a Certificate of Occupancy last night by Building Commissioner Rob Morra.

Phased move ins for the 36 badly needed housing units began this morning.

 Kendrick Place Monday:  Front Check in station (minus the ladder of course)

 Hallway art:  painting of an aerial view of salt mine (different view on each of five floors)

In addition to paying the town $150,000 in property taxes (based on a value of around $7.5 million) the upscale building will also house 100 tenants who are potential customers for nearby businesses.

 Kendrick Place, Tuesday:  moving in day

The revitalization of downtown Amherst is now off to a good start.

As It Always Should Have Been

 Commemorative flags in town center

The one hour discussion last night at the regular Monday meeting of the Amherst Select Board was one of the more heart wrenching experiences of my 30+ year involvement in civic engagement.

I had thought about bringing along the Ground Zero flag but thought one of my Trolls would say I was using it as a prop, or contacting a couple dozen people to show up as a sign of public support.   

But in the end decided to let the issue speak for itself. Let the reminder of that day -- that awful, awful day -- take center stage.  The spirit of 3,000 slaughtered Americans can't be ignored.

I took a quick photo of the Board with my iPbone from my front row seat about half-way through the discussion and grudgingly prepared my 1st breaking news bulletin:  "Select Board votes 3-2 NOT to fly the commemorative flags annually on 9/11."

Then even more ominously, Chair Alisa Brewer expressed doubt about the Board reaching consensus and asked almost rhetorically if they should even come to a vote because avoiding a formal vote would simply keep the current once-every-five-year policy in place.  I reedited my tweet:

"Select Board pocket vetoes annual flying of commemorative flags every 9/11, avoids taking a vote."

But then Chair Alisa Brewer, who is the most experienced member of the Board, threw down the gauntlet by making the motion to support annual flying.  An unusual break in protocol as the Chair never make motions.  Runner up most experienced Board member Jim Wald seconded the motion.

Now I thought they would return to a 3-2 vote against annual flight, but at least it would be a matter of public record.

Then, thankfully, Connie Kruger came up with the idea of adding the President's call for a "National Day of Service"  (Town Manager Musante calmly crafted it into the motion) and a sea change took place.

The three least experienced Select Board member, who previously expressed doubt about annual flying, almost instantly came into the fold.  The motion passing unanimously.

In the end, a margin far better than I expected.

But still, bittersweet.  What happened that terrible day is forever seared into our memories and nothing will ever change that.

The presence of 29 commemorative flags, I hope, will bring us some small degree of comfort -- just as it did those three firefighters who raised a borrowed flag over the smouldering rubble of what was only hours before, those majestic Twin Towers of glass and steel.

For the youth now flocking to our college town, I sincerely hope the flags will serve as a simple reminder, so they pause for a brief moment to acknowledge the pernicious price we paid that otherwise bright & beautiful morning ... simply for being Americans.

The cost of freedom.

AFD annual 9/11 ceremony is at Central Station 9:45 AM

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The North Will Rise Again

Atkins North, open for business in North Amherst

As promised over a year ago, Atkins North -- a smaller version of the iconic South Amherst flagship  -- will officially open its brand new doors today after total transformation of a 4,000+ square foot cow barn into a shiny new, long needed, food business.

Inside is even brighter and shinier than you would expect

The operation will complement the 12,000 square foot Trolley Barn just down the street and provide further incentive for North Amherst residents to shop closer to home.  Cowls Road will be repaved this fall and a sidewalk installed from Montague Road directly to Atkins North.

 A nod to the past
The town is also planning to tweak two intersections that make up of the North Amherst Village Center where five roads all converge almost on top of each other.  Meanwhile, Pine Street (one of those 5 roads) is now, finally, nearing completion of a $4 million major renovation.

North Amherst is fast returning to its former glory days when it was known as the "dirty hands district" because of a plethora of mills, factories, farms and loggers.

W.D. Cowls, Inc, the largest private landowner in the state, has now successfully recycled their l-o-n-g history in that area into a shiny new "clean hands district,"  aka The Mill District.

North Amherst Village Center: Sunderland and Montague Road branch off after intersection of Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant