April 14, 2008 Select Board Meeting

Monday, April 14th 2008, 6:30 p.m., Town Room at Town Hall

Present:  Select Board members Gerry Weiss, Anne Awad, Alisa Brewer, Diana Stein, Stephanie O’Keeffe; Town Manager Larry Shaffer; Judith Arcamo, recording minutes.


Mr. Weiss announced the following events:  Arbor Day celebration, Saturday April 26, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., north end of the Town Common; Earth Day celebration, Saturday, April 26, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., downtown, on North Pleasant Street; Amherst Elementary Schools Trash-Free Lunch Day, Friday, April 18 – encouraging the packing of lunches with only food students will eat, and with reusable containers and cloth napkins; street closings for moving houses on Tuesday, April 15 and Thursday, April 17 – Spring Street: Boltwood Avenue to Dickinson Street, Boltwood Avenue: Spring Street to Main Street,  and Main Street:  Boltwood Avenue to Gray Street; Warrant Review meeting, sponsored by the Town Meeting Coordinating Committee and League of Women Voters, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Thursday, April 17 in the Middle School auditorium; Lecture by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute, Sunday, April 27, 7:30 p.m., at Hampshire College’s Franklin-Patterson Hall.

Public Comment

Kevin Joy of the Fourth of July Parade Committee spoke of that group’s desire to not have any parade participants carrying signs that might offend youth.  There was brief back-and-forth among members of the parade committee, the Town Manager, and the Select Board about the right to have the parade, possible free speech issues and what the Select Board’s role might be on the issue.  It was determined that this discussion needed to be scheduled as a timed agenda item at a future meeting, because it would take more time than the brief public comment period would allow.

Bill Elsasser reported that he had not gone on the trip to Georgia that he had originally planned to do, but was gone briefly and praised the Town for its litter management in his absence.

David Keenan said that in the past, Select Board members had keys to Town Hall and the Select Board office, and that during his tenure, he had been able to access files and use the office typewriter at his convenience.  He said that the lack of such access currently suggests a “significant philosophical shift” in the roles of the Select Board and Town Manager, and said he would be looking into when and why the earlier practice ended.  Ms. Awad said that she had never asked for or been offered a key, and said that Robie Hubley received one in 2003.  Mr. Weiss said he never had a key.  Mr. Shaffer said that Select Board members are given the security code to get into Town Hall by the back the door, but don’t have office access.  [Note: Ms. Awad gave me that code as we entered the building together before last week’s meeting.] 

Public Hearing – WMECO Electrical Poles  (6:48)

A WMECO representative explained the need to place two electrical poles on Woodside Avenue, to increase the reliability of the lines there and improve WMECO’s ability to access them.  The area is currently served by lines running behind houses, which he said complicates access and repair. 

There was some discussion about whether or not abutters had been informed of the public hearing, and whose responsibility that notification was – it was later determined from a late-arriving abutter, that notification had been made – and the Select Board’s vote to approve the poles was unanimous.

Committee Appointments: Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee  (6:56)

Mr. Weiss said that he and Andy Churchill, who were the two Budget Coordinating Group (BCG) members heading up the appointments to the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee, had decided to expand the committee’s membership to ten.  He said that the names being recommended for appointment had BCG consensus support, noting that BCG does not take votes. 

Mr. Weiss recommended that the following people be appointed to the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee:  Isaac BenEzra, Alison Donta-Venman, Stan Gawle, Martha Hanner, Gerald Jolly, Janet Lansberry, Irv Rhodes, Bob Saul, Richard Spurgin and Katherine Vorwerk Feldman.  The recommendations were approved by a single unanimous vote.

Committee  Appointment: Community Preservation Act Committee

Ms. Awad recommended the appointment of Ellen Kosmer to the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC.)  She said that she and Ms. Brewer worked jointly on the recommendation.  The vote to approve the appointment was unanimous. 

Road Closing: Cushman May Day Celebration  (7:04)

Sarah Madison requested the closing of Henry Street from Pine Street to Market Hill Road from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 3rd for a neighborhood May Day celebration, which she said has been a tradition for more than 25 years.  The vote to approve the street closing request was unanimous.

Paperwork for the Cowls Land APR  (7:07)

Conservation Director David Ziomek explained that paperwork from a November meeting where the Select Board handled some administrative details for furthering the purchase of an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) on North Amherst land, as approved by Town Meeting last May, was never received by the State, and needed to be done again.  To that end, the Select Board had to state for the public record that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was seeking to purchase the APR, and that the Select Board was agreeing to reduce the standard 120-day notification period to 60 days, per the request of the Department of Agricultural Resources.  So we did.  The vote to reduce the notification period was unanimous.

Resolution of Support for the Tibetan People  (7:13)

Thondup Tsering and other members and supporters of the local Tibetan community spoke of the outrages occurring in Tibet in the wake of China’s violent response to peaceful protests there.  A resolution condemning the violence and seeking pressure and assistance from the international community was supported by the Select Board in a unanimous vote, with copies of the resolution to be sent to Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, and Representative John Olver. 

Library Budget  (7:37)

Library Director Bonnie Isman and several members of the Library Trustees presented the proposed library budget for FY09.  Ms. Isman explained that the budget is increasing at 1.3% over FY08, with a 2% increase in Town funding, and reduced increases from other sources.  She said the budget gap had been reduced from $28,000 earlier in the process to $11,000 now, which she said would be met by reducing services, including closing the Jones Library on Mondays.

Ms. Isman spoke about the generosity from the community in providing private funds for programs such as computer classes, the ESL program, and some operating hours at the North Amherst branch. 

There was discussion about the endowment, and how the Trustees are seeking to use 5.4% of its market value for FY09, down from 5.5% this year, and moving closer to the goal of using only 5%.  There was also discussion about the projected pay for unionized employees whose contracts are still under negotiation, and whether or not the projections would be sufficient to meet the eventual agreement.

Much talk was about establishing a revolving fund to allow the libraries to maintain the overdue fees they collect.  An article on the Town Meeting warrant seeks to do this, and Library Trustee Pat Holland said that the Trustees had yet to vote on their recommendation.  She said there were concerns that an amount equal to the revolving fund money would be deducted from the Libraries’ budget appropriation for no net gain; that there might be administrative complications related to increased bookkeeping and strictures on how the money could be spent; and because overdue fines have been considered a deterrent to reading and library use, it would represent a shift in policy and philosophy to begin aggressive collection. 

There was discussion of the mechanism for establishing such a fund, and how the library might keep that money without having it deducted from the appropriation, and the question of whether such a fund would need to be reauthorized annually, which was unresolved.  Mr. Shaffer said that the Trustees need to first decide that this is something they want, and that the Town would then work with them to create it.  He said that in other places, such funds tend to be successful when there is a sharing of the gains among entities, and suggested that the Town and Libraries might split the proceeds that were in excess of a certain amount. 

It was decided that the Select Board would vote on recommending the Library budget at this meeting – and we did so, unanimously – and that we would hold off offering a recommendation on the article about the revolving fund. 

Zoning Amendments:  Article 26 – Sunderland Road Property  (8:18)

Before the discussion began, I noted that my husband is on the Planning Board, and that there is no conflict because we have no financial interest in any of the issues. 

Ms. Awad said that it was great to be considering zoning articles before Town Meeting begins, rather than during.  Mr. Weiss said that he had been pushing Planning Director Jonathan Tucker to get the Planning Board Reports on the articles ready early. 

Article 26 proposes rezoning two parcels at the former Bioshelters site on Sunderland Road to Village Center – Residence, from the current Outlying Residence, and Low Density Residence with a Farmland Conservation overlay.  The property owner lives in Florida and was not present for the meeting.  Mr. Tucker and Planning Board Chair Aaron Hayden presented the article. 

Key points:  there’s not a lot of buildable area on the properties because of significant wet lands; the owner believes the proposed zoning change would be a benefit because it would allow mixed-use residential and office building; the property is on the town line and abuts Sunderland’s commercial district; though the area doesn’t look much like a village center now, it could someday; there are concerns that rezoning and development would preclude future agriculture/aquaculture uses; without the rezoning, the property may be developed for a couple of single-family homes.

Various points of opposition were raised by Tracy Hightower, an abutter who formerly operated Bioshelters and says the business was essentially evicted by Kenneth Bergstrom, the property owner.  She said he can’t sell the property because he has priced it too high and is skeptical of his efforts to find new tenants for the site. 

Select Board members questioned the benefits to the Town, and seemed generally wary of the concept.  It was decided that further discussion and a vote on the recommendation would wait until the opinions of the Conservation Commission and Agriculture Commission could be learned. 

Taxi License  (9:09)

The Select Board asked a couple of questions of Sean Timothy Lynch about how long he has been driving and how well he knows the local streets.  We then voted unanimously to grant his taxi license.

I asked if we might consider ending the requirement to have taxi license applicants appear before the Select Board, saying that we were not adding any value or substance to the application process, that the Police Chief has already approved the application, and that our approval is all but automatic.  I asked what answer we might receive that would cause us to deny the license.   Ms. Brewer agreed.  Mr. Weiss and Ms. Awad said that it helped reinforce the seriousness of the application to make the person come before the Select Board.  Ms. Stein suggested scheduling the licenses earlier, perhaps at the beginning of the meeting, to minimize the time the applicants have to wait. 

Zoning Amendments:  Article 25 – Density Calculations  (9:12)

This amendment seeks to rationalize the rounding of fractional calculations for determining the allowable number of units in three residential development categories:  Standard Clusters, Affordable Clusters, and Open Space Community Developments.  By current law, the math that determines units based on the land area, buildable area, minimum lot requirements, etc., has each of these categories rounding down to the nearest whole number, yielding, for example, 9 allowable units, whether the formula came out to 9.02 or 9.98.  The proposed change would allow for the more standard round up if the decimal portion is 0.5 or more and round down when it is less than 0.5. 

Mr. Tucker explained that there are a number of benefits to the proposed change, including that it would apply to categories for which greater development density is the goal, and that in “threshold” scenarios – where a certain number of total units triggers requirement for additional affordable units – the outcome is consistent with the policy goals for the development category.  Beyond that, it would typically mean just one more or fewer unit for a given development.   

The proposed change would not apply to standard subdivisions, farmland conservation clusters or Planned Unit Residential Developments (PURDs.)  Standard subdivisions and PURDs don’t use the same sort of mathematical computations to determine allowable units, and farmland conservation clusters were not intended to encourage density.

Mr. O’Connor voiced concerns about additional unit density reducing other minimum space requirements, and Mr. Tucker said that was explicitly addressed and prevented. Ms. Gray opposed classifying the proposed change as “technical” and said that it was substantive and would alter the intent of the original bylaw.  Mr. Hayden said that the changes did not alter the original intent for these development categories, which sought to encourage density. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Article 25.

Taxi Licenses

A couple of people who had found themselves attending the wrong meeting in Town Hall now appeared for their taxi license applications.  After asking the usual questions about driving experience and local road knowledge, we voted unanimously to approve the licenses for Daniel Kline, Cassandra Poulin and Daniel Mahoney.

Zoning Amendments:  Article 27 – Municipal Parking Zone  (9:28)

Article 27 seeks to correct a couple of legal problems with the existing Municipal Parking Zone, which Mr. Tucker said is flawed by not having uniformity of rules within the district in which it exists, and by not appearing on the zoning map too make it clear where the rules apply.  The proposal would fix both of those problems, and would neaten up issues such as the current zone splitting buildings in half.  According to Mr. Tucker, the proposed change deliberately avoided addressing parking policy issues, such as how much of the downtown area should the district cover, should it also apply to abutting districts, etc., and instead made only technical fixes. 

Most of the discussion focused on one sentence in the proposed language explaining the “purpose” of the district, and whether or not it left the Town vulnerable to being required to provide more parking for downtown businesses, a concern raised by Ms. Gray.  Mr. Tucker said that that had not been the intent, and that the language in question was submitted earlier in the day to Town Counsel for an opinion about that issue.

The Select Board opted to await that opinion before making a recommendation.

Zoning Amendments:  Article 28 – Design Review Districts

Mr. Tucker explained that Article 28 was fundamentally the same as Article 27, but without any questionable language.  It sought to address the fact that Design Review regulations downtown exist only in language and not on any map, and looks to create a clear overlay district.  The current language also has issues of non-uniformity of rules within a given zoning district. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend Article 28.

Town Manager’s Report  (9:53)

Mr. Shaffer said that the Extravaganja event would take place on the Town Common this weekend, and he said that there is no policy in place regarding charging organizers of any events for Police services, and that this event would not be facing such charges.  Ms. Brewer noted that language saying that there is a charge needs to be removed from a couple of places on the Town web site. 

Considering the late hour, Mr. Shaffer said he would save his other report details for another meeting.

Correction for Market Hill Road Property

Several times in the last year and spanning two sales attempts, the Select Board has discussed and opted to waive the Town’s right of first refusal on a watershed property on Market Hill Road, near the Atkins Reservoir.  This discussion occurred most recently in March, and it turns out that the wrong book and page number for the property were cited in the vote, so we needed to re-vote it with the correction.  So once again, pursuant to MGL Chapter 61A, the Select Board voted to not exercise its right of first refusal on this property, the deed to which can be found at the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds in Book 8999, page 337.

Special Liquor License 

We unanimously approved a special liquor license for a UMass event at the Fine Arts Center to be held April 25th.

Committee Appointment

Mr. Shaffer recommended the approval of Eduardo Suarez as the Planning Board’s appointment to the Water Supply Protection Committee.  The Select Board approved the recommendation in a unanimous vote.

The meeting adjourned at 10:00 p.m.  The next Select Board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23rd at Town Hall.  We will meet on Wednesday instead of Monday due to the Patriots Day holiday.


Eva Schiffer said:

Even though I still think this is more detailed than necessary (unless it can replace the official minutes), it sure conveys a better sense of what happened at that meeting than does today's Gazette coverage, which singles out the 4th of July parade and the Tibet resolution as the only items mentioned.

The current entrance code to the back door of Town Hall should be shared with new Select Board members by the Town Manager or a member of his staff -- not by another SB member.


I had an introductory meeting with the Town Manager right after the election, where he was bringing me up to speed on various details and taking care of some orientation-type stuff. Unfortunately, I had another commitment scheduled, so I couldn’t stay too long. I suspect he would have given me the door code then, but we didn’t get to it.

I appreciated Anne giving it to me. It’s kind of like she taught me the secret handshake, and it was a good way to go in to my first meeting.

Mary Dunn said:

I'm so glad you are still doing meeting summaries! Keep up the good job.

neil said:

I appreciate being able to read the minutes. These minutes seem to have an sufficient amount of detail for my purposes.

If I leave a comment about a Select Board related issue here in the comments, will it be read by Ms. Okeefe? I'm not looking for a guarantee just a likelihood. Many Thanks.


Thanks for the kind words Mary. And yes, Neil, I read everything here. In case it isn't clear: this is my own personal web site and not affiliated with the Town or the Select Board at all.

neil said:

There is an unauthorized expansion of the HIRED Town Manager's authority beyond his role as administrator implementing policy into the Select Board’s role as policymaker.

The town manager is authorized to implement policy decided by the ELECTED Select Board, not make it. Ask: Why would the town forefathers go to the trouble of designing a government with a five-member elected Select Board to make policy and simultaneously authorize an un-elected town manager (that has no electoral consent from a plurality of citizens) to make policy independently of them? Please try to put an end to this practice. It is not authorized by the consent of the people.

The decision-making criteria for the new policy for the Independence Day Parade and Kendrick Park Use was poorly reasoned, poorly researched, based on political considerations of a few active citizens with the ear of the town manager and Select Board Chair, and most egregiously, formulated without the authority of all five members of the Select Board, which is the only entity that has the consent of the people to rule on such matters.

When the Town Manager writes a press release before the Select Board takes up a policy matter, something is very wrong. Who did the Town Manager meet with? What citizens? What Select Board members? Why weren’t Ms. O’Keefe and Ms. Brewer at the table for the pivotal discussions? Is there someone(s) on the Select Board that is encouraging the Town Manager’s policymaking? If so, is this a way for him (or her or them) to assert their own agenda without input from the other duly elected Select Board members? If so, they depriving Amherst residents of their representation and subverting the rule of government. The press release should be written after the Select Board decides, don’t you agree? The Select Board should not be rushed into a decision. Select Board members can request a full vetting of the issue, ask for more research, ask for the pros and cons in written documentation; revise and edit

These issues are important to the people of Amherst. Back room policy decisions between the town manager, a handful of the citizens who have his ear and the Select Board chair are a disservice to Amherst and good government. The debate must be brought into the public realm and decided by the elected Select Board members, not the town manager and his cabal of enablers.



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