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Consensus on a compromise

A broad consensus seems to be emerging that a compromise plan to apply for state money to help finance a new elementary school is the best way to provide healthy buildings for our children without enormous tax increases. But you’d never suspect that from reading a guest column in this week’s Amherst Bulletin. It poses lots of questions and claims that a thorough process for receiving public comment was somehow incomplete. This column employs a rhetorical technique called “sea-lioning.” I’ll explain, but first some background. On Monday night, the Town Council will discuss the compromise plan and will vote on …

1

Council to discuss affordable housing plan

The cost of housing in Amherst has concerned residents and officials for years. Support for increasing the number of housing units for people with incomes at or below the median income for the area is included in the town’s master plan. Nevertheless, very little housing was built in Amherst in the decades of 1980 to 2010, and even less of that was affordable. At the Town Council meeting this Monday, the Council will hear a request to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) to select a developer to convert the town’s East Street property to affordable housing. The property is …

5

Turnout dismal at public budget forum

Only 16 people showed up Thursday to learn about how Amherst will spend $80 million in public money next year, and only six of them had anything to say about it. For a simplified summary of what the town manager said, and comments from the six people, keep reading. But first, let me set the scene for you. This public forum took place in the same place where Town Meeting used to meet. To see rows of empty seats where an average of 180 citizens used to meet was, well, eerie. But it got eerier. The forum was required to …

2

A neighborhood meets on local issues

More than 60 people who live just south of the UMass campus got together Sunday to learn about and discuss issues distinctive to their neighborhood. I don’t live in that part of Amherst, but I have many friends who do, and I came to the meeting at the Jones Library to see how this kind of neighborhood action works. As a member of the Charter Commission, I supported the requirement that the 10 district councilors convene at least two public meetings a year. I was very impressed, not only with the turnout Sunday, but with the information provided, and the …

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Citizens consider compromise school plan

The compromise plan to build one new elementary school, with significant state assistance, got its first public airings Wednesday. While many people see this compromise as the best option, educationally and financially, a small group of opponents also attended. You may recall that two years ago, Town Meeting killed a voter-approved plan to build two new elementary schools at the Wildwood site. They would have replaced Wildwood and Fort River, which are well past their sell-by dates and architecturally backward. Opponents gave two reasons: they wanted to keep the three-school model and didn’t like the proposal to make Crocker Farm …

6

Parking questions for Council to consider

Many people drive into downtown Amherst and look for a place to park. But few of them understand all the complexities of the town’s parking policies. I will try to briefly explain them here, while posing some questions that the Town Council will be seeking answers to. A parking consultant will be gathering data this spring and making a report to the Council. This report will help the Council determine if there is enough supply of parking spaces to meet the demand, and whether the system needs tweaking. Is the current system of parking fees, time limits and enforcement hours …

5

New cafe offers free coffee, with a catch

A new coffee shop has opened in Amherst, but it’s different from every other coffee shop in town. And that makes some people uncomfortable. It’s called Shiru Cafe, and it’s occupying the same space on Boltwood Walk that Share and Rao’s did previously. It opened Dec. 3, and is a part of a chain that operates coffee shops in Japan and India. The first Shiru Cafe in the U.S. opened 10 months ago in Providence, near Brown University, and the one in Amherst is the second. A Shiru Cafe is due to open in New Haven in February, and later …

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As council convenes, unity and tribalism

At its first meeting Monday night, Amherst’s new Town Council had difficulty getting beyond the tribalism that characterized its creation. Several councilors, in their opening statements, promoted a “spirit of unity” (Andy Steinberg) and “reaching across the aisle” (Dorothy Pam). That spirit prevailed in the selection of a president, but when it came time to choose a vice president, the old familiar divisions resurfaced. Shortly after being chosen as the first Town Council president, Lynn Griesemer called the group “13 very independent people all committed to moving Amherst forward.” This was an intentional yoking in one sentence of two buzzwords …

3

Bryan Harvey: Election turnout increases

One of the arguments put forth in support of the council form of government was that it would engage more citizens through consequential voting. Council candidates, the argument went, would have to stake out defined positions and be accountable for them. They would have to earn votes by communicating with citizens. This kind of engagement would greatly increase citizen awareness of and stake in local issues, thus also expanding the extent to which the governors would have to pay attention to the governed. A new era of invigorated local democracy — engaging the many versus the few — was promised. …

Q&A on Tuesday’s Town Council election

Q. Now that the town is divided into five districts instead of 10 precincts, where will I vote? A. You will vote in the same place you have always voted. Click here for the locations. The precinct lines still exist with respect to polling places. Here’s a map of the district lines. Q. How many candidates can I vote for? A. You can vote for up to three of the six at-large candidates and two of the four candidates for district councilor. There will be 13 members of the Town Council, three elected at large and two for each of …