June 11, 2008 Select Board Meeting

Wednesday, June 11, 2008, 6:30 p.m., Middle School Music Room

Present:  Select Board members: Anne Awad, Alisa Brewer, Diana Stein and Stephanie O’Keeffe; Town Manager Larry Shaffer

Absent:  Select Board Chair Gerry Weiss

Announcements and Agenda Review

I noted that as this month’s Vice Chair, I would be chairing this meeting in Mr. Weiss’ absence, and that he would be present for the Town Meeting session to follow.  And I announced the following:  that Select Board meetings will resume at Town Hall on Monday, June 16th; that the Planning Board’s Zoning Subcommittee will hold a forum to review zoning priorities and receive citizen input on Wednesday, June 18th from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall; and that the 2009 Fourth of July Parade will be discussed at the Monday, June 23rd Select Board meeting; and congratulated the Amherst Regional High School softball team for its Division 1 championship, and the boys’ and girls’ ultimate Frisbee teams for their State championships.

Ms. Stein inquired about Town officials following up with the Department of Agricultural Resources regarding herbicide application near sensitive areas along the railroad tracks, as per a letter received in the Select Board packets.  Mr. Shaffer said that he would look into that.

Public Comment  (6:33)

Walter Wolnik made several suggestions aimed at better informing the public about the Select Board’s work.  He suggested posting Select Board packet contents on the Town web site, and said that posting the motion sheet would be an easy way to start.  He suggested making better use of the digital projector in the Town Room for displaying documents and motion language, and said that ACTV could switch from the camera feed to the digital projector feed in order to broadcast clear images of those projections to the TV audience. 

Street Closing Request – Blue Hills Road  (6:37)

The Select Board voted 3 in favor, 2 absent (Ms. Brewer had not yet arrived) to approve a request to close Blue Hills Road on Saturday, July 26th (Sunday, July 27th rain date) from noon to 8:00 p.m. for an annual block party.

Approval of Minutes  (6:39)

I noted that our new procedure was to submit a list of edits and amendments to the minutes electronically to the office beforehand, so that during the meetings we would only be considering those lists, and that it would take a little while to got used to doing it this way.  As the minutes before us at this meeting mark the beginning of my tenure as minutes recorder, I asked that members consider general issues such as whether the draft minutes contain too much or too little detail, and if any changes to the traditional structure of the minutes might be preferred.

We then discussed and approved the minutes of four meetings:  May 19th (3 in favor, 1 abstaining and 1 absent;) May 21st (3 in favor, 1 abstaining and 1 absent;) May 28th (4 in favor, 1 absent;) and June 2nd (3 in favor, 1 abstaining and 1 absent.)  Ms. Brewer typically abstains from voting on minutes she has not adequately reviewed.

Special Liquor Licenses  (6:51)

There was discussion about the possibility of combining four special liquor license approvals into a consent calendar, or otherwise voting on them with a single motion.  It was determined that a single motion referencing the specifics listed on the motion sheet would be adequate.  With a vote of 4 in favor, 1 absent, the Select Board approved special liquor licenses for four UMass events in June.

Town Manager’s Report  (6:54)

Mr. Shaffer provided a handout and made a presentation on economic development goals and strategies.  He discussed goals of increasing the town’s total taxable assessed value by 1% per year over ten years by increasing new growth from 1.5% to 2.5% and developing strategies consistent with the Master Plan.  He discussed strategies including:  the formation of partnerships with Amherst College, Hampshire College, UMass, the business community and others, and noted that such efforts are well underway; identifying land parcels that meet criteria for large-scale projects, and noted that this has been done; creating a job description for an Economic Development Director, and said he is working on this now; and connecting with the private sector to determine what the Town can do to help businesses develop and grow here. 

Mr. Shaffer described the Patterson property in North Amherst and the proposal for a transferable option that would give the Town three years to seek an appropriate project for the site.  He said that Town Meeting would need to approve the option, which would require an annual payment for three years.  He emphasized that the Town would not purchase the land; the option would allow the Town to lease the land, and to transfer that ability to another entity at the appropriate time. He noted that details of the proposal are complex and still being worked out, and include elements such as an 80-year lease with options to purchase, and life estate for the property owner. 

Mr. Shaffer discussed some specifics of the property:  it is primarily zoned as Professional Research Park (PRP); there are no plans to seek zoning changes or allow an outlet on Montague Road; if an agreement is reached with the Pattersons, agreements will be sought with owners of abutting parcels on the north and south ends of the property to create roughly 40 acres of space that would support up to 500,000 square feet of development.  He said he would seek a project requiring a minimum of 250,000 square feet.  Infrastructure costs are estimated as high as $12 million, but the actual amount would depend on the specific project.  He noted that the plan has been favorably received by many, including State entities who believe it is a good candidate for Chapter 43D grants and other State assistance.  He said that if Town Meeting doesn’t approve the proposal, it would mean that economic development will need to be pursued differently, such as through redevelopment of downtown and of brownfield sites, both of which he said would be more complicated. 

Ms. Brewer said it was important to make this project work, and said that the Master Plan process indicated broad community support for development in the PRP zones.

Mr. Shaffer talked about a German solar voltaic company that decided to locate its U.S. facility in New Mexico after having also considered sites in Westfield and North Carolina.  He said that Amherst’s community ethos and its stature as a college town with a ready supply of labor made it a better fit for such companies than some of the State’s more “challenged” communities.  He said that State economic development representatives agree, and believe the North Amherst parcel would be an important site in their portfolio of land for attracting new business.

I noted that this was the first of such discussions, and that more would follow.

Update on Article 20, Part B  (7:20)

Planning Director Jonathan Tucker said that the appraisal figures on the Main Street properties had been received earlier in the day, and had come in at $135,000 per lot rather than the $200,000 per lot figure previously estimated.  He said that he and Jim Wald, Chair of the Historical Commission, had met with the property owners, and that the owners were willing to proceed on the basis of that $270,000 being the Town’s portion.  Mr. Tucker said that the property owners also intended to pursue private donations to “bolster” the total.  He said the property owners were no longer willing to potentially sell just one of the lots, as had been a possibility in the initial proposal, so new motion language requested a total of $270,000 for both lots, with $81,000 to come from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds and the remaining $189,000 would be funded by a State urban self-help grant, if the grant is received.  He explained that every community in the State is rated on eligibility criteria for the reimbursement rate it qualifies for under the grant, and that Amherst is rated at the highest level – 70% – which is reflected in that allocation of the $270,000 total.  If the grant is not received, this proposal would not proceed. 

Mr. Tucker said that the language of the donation agreement regarding the historic preservation restrictions of the abutting properties would be altered slightly to address the change to two lots, rather than one or both. 

The Select Board decided that no new action on the new motion was required, because the reduced amount was less than the original amount we had voted unanimously to recommend at our April 23rd meeting, and hence, our recommendation stood. 

Vince O’Connor expressed concerns that the language of the motion allowing borrowing in anticipation of the grant was too broad, and might allow for undesirable situations such as borrowing in anticipation of tax revenue, and suggested that the language be removed entirely.  He said that the Select Board already had the authority to borrow in anticipation of a State grant and didn’t require Town Meeting approval to do so.  He also said he thought the Massachusetts General Law citation about borrowing in the motion language referred to the incorrect section of the law. 

Mr. Shaffer said that the town had no intention of borrowing in anticipation of tax revenue, and Mr. Tucker said that Town Counsel and the Town’s Finance Director had considered these issues among others when dealing with the motion language.

MMA Letter Opposing Pension COLA Increases  (7:29)

Ms. Brewer said she was waiting to hear back from State Senator Stan Rosenberg and State Representative Ellen Story regarding COLA increases for municipal pensions included in the budget passed by the State Senate.  She said the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) had written a letter to legislators opposing the increase due to the additional expense it would impose on local budgets, and said that she had sought our legislators’ opinions on whether the Select Board should take action, such as endorsing the MMA letter.  Ms. Stein said she would also try to contact Senator Rosenberg and Representative Story.

Summer Agenda Process

I noted that we did not have time to consider this agenda item, and we would take it up on Monday.  I said that the goal is to consider how best we might determine our summer priorities, instead of creating and coordinating long lists, which had not appeared to be too effective last year. 

The meeting adjourned at 7:34 p.m.  The next Select Board meeting will be held Monday, June 16th at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall.    


Anonymous said:

I am seeking information on the Kendrick Park Committee such as membership and roles, meeting agenda and minutes. The Committee met May 15. I thought I would find this information here, amherstma.gov committees but it is not posted.

Mr Shaffer said that the issues the Kendrick Park Use Committee are addressing "warrant public scrutiny". To my mind, that means their activities, their charge, membership, meeting agendas, minutes and reports are made available to the public on the Town of Amherst web site, as opposed to requiring the public to request the materials.

I sent a formal request by email May 22 to info@amherstma.gov to have all documentation of the Kendrick Park Use Committee’s work, including their charge, membership, meeting agendas, minutes, and reports posted on the Town of Amherst web site. The request was acknowledged but no answer was provided as to why this information is not available on the amherstma.gov website. I wondered if an inquiry from an elected official would move it forward with appropriate action, such as readily providing the public information about the committee's work.

I think you raise some excellent points here that apply to many boards and committees, not just the Kendrick Park Committee.

Much work is being done to prepare the next generation of the Town web site, and my understanding is that it will debut in late June or early July. While that work is being done, some elements of the old site are not being updated, but will be updated on the new site.

That being said, primary responsibility for creating content and requesting its posting on the Town site lies with each committee. I think that Select Board liaisons to each committee can and should encourage the posting of charges, agendas, minutes, etc., and I will be addressing this issue when we consider new liaison assignments -- possibly tonight, 6/16. Your request would have gone to the Information Technology department which currently handles the posting of such materials upon the committee's request, but is not otherwise responsible for them. I suspect your request would have been forwarded to the Kendrick Park Committee.

Expect to see more information in the near future. In the meantime, it is my understanding that the Select Board office maintains folders on each committee containing all the information you're seeking, and that those can be viewed by visiting the office and requesting the folder. Not as convenient as the web, but better than nothing for now.

Meetings are listed on the Town web site. The next meeting of the Kendrick Park Committee is Thursday, June 19th at 7:00 p.m.in the First Floor Meeting Room at Town Hall, and as with all public meetings, all are welcome to attend.

Also, a list of committee members, including those of the Kendrick Park Committee and its subcommittees is available here:


Scroll down to the Ks for the Kendrick Park Committee. Anyone listed there would be happy to fill you in on committee details, I'm sure.

Thanks very much for your interest in the committee's work, and for your patience as the new, improved Town web site prepares to launch.

Anonymous said:

Thank you for your informative response Stephanie O'Keeffe.



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