Amherst votes in favor of $4.2 million sewer expansion, updating 55-year-old zoning map

By Daniel Nott

Representatives from across Amherst met last Wednesday at a town meeting to discuss and vote on a number of articles concerning updating and expanding town infrastructure and services.

Among other articles, the town representatives voted overwhelmingly for a $4.2 million project to expand sewer lines, and a proposal to update the official town zoning map from a paper copy dating back to 1956, to a modern digital system available online.

Expanding Amherst’s Sewers

The Sewer Extension Project, which was drafted by a firm in Cambridge, MA, will provide a town sewer line for Amherst woods and Harkness Road neighborhood, paid for by the whole of the town.

There was initial skepticism from some town representatives, many of whom were not sure the entire town should be paying for infrastructure that will affect only a small select number of residents.

Aaron Hayden, of the Amherst Select Board, called the new sewer lines a “public service,” explaining that 93% of Amherst has town sewers, which were all paid for by the town at some point.

The average increase per family is projected at $38 annually, but because the money is coming from bonds and Sewer funds, and town is retiring old debt, residents will have essentially no changes to their bill. Without town support, the prices for households to in the project areas could have reached $17,000 – $20,000 for the new sewer lines.

There are over 100 houses that will be affected in Amherst Woods, and Hayden said that nearly 200 houses total would get sewers in the street. Construction will begin on Harkness Road next year, and construction in Amherst woods will start in the following years.

Retiring an Old Map

Representatives of Amherst also voted to officially convert the Amherst Zoning Map from a paper copy that dates back to 1956, to a digital document.

While the Planning Board described the update as “the right thing to do to bring Amherst municipal services into the 21st century,” there were a few skeptics present. Vincent O’Connor of precinct 1 was concerned about the availability to people without access to computers, wondered if GIS was a brand name, and if there was a legal basis for using digital maps for municipal record keeping.

The Planning Board replied that the paper copy would still be available, and that GIS is a widely recognized tool used by nearly all municipalities in Massachusetts.

Before the article passed, Amherst’s legally recognized zoning map was a large format document consisting of over 90  22” x 18” sheets of paper. Over the years, changes to zoning and property had to be hand drawn and placed on these sheets, before multiple copies were distributed to various town offices.

Amherst Planning Director Jonathan Tucker explains the old Amherst zoning map, which is based on information from 1956

The digital Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that has officially replaced the paper document was developed in the 1990’s, but was not legally recognized as the official record until Wednesday’s meeting.

From his office on the second floor of town hall, Planning Director Jonathan Tucker explained some of the important differences between the old copy and the new one.

He described the GIS system as having “vastly greater accuracy,” compared to the old system, which measured the topography in 5 or 10-foot increments.

“The most recent flyover that was done, upon which our Geographic Information System was based, was done with laser-based method for measuring ground contours, which can measure something like 3 inch increments across town, so that the sense of where the elevation is very accurate.”

Tucker also explained that the baseline for all mapping on the federal and state level was changed in 1986, so that the old map was on a different coordinate system than the rest of Massachusetts and the country. The discrepancy also led to a difference in about of foot in elevation.

The difference in elevation is particularly important for the Flood Prone Conservancy (FPC) district, which is determined in part by a “100-Year Flood Plane,” which uses historical data and calculations to determine what the level of flooding would be in an event that would occur approximately once ever 100 years.

“When you’re talking about large, flattish areas, [a foot of elevation] can double the size of the water,” Tucker explained.

However, the map isn’t completely accurate, and the planning board is still working on figuring out exactly where the FPC district lies. According to Tucker, the Planning Board is using funds it received at the Spring Town Meeting to collect data on where the FPC actually is.

“Once we have that data we can change the boundary on the new map to reflect that,” said Tucker.

Tucker also explained that the GIS system would allow the town to continually update their map. “There are zoning changes every 6 months, every time we have a town meeting we usually have some zoning change whether it’s rules or boundaries.”

A page from the old Amherst zoning map showing the Flood Prone Conservancy (FPC) district.

Additionally, property boundaries change even more rapidly than zoning boundaries. Tucker explained that they used to send the Assessor’s maps out to an engineering firm once a year to redraw all of the property boundary changes that occurred in the previous year.

“This would be accurate for about a week and a half, and then it would sort of just accumulate inaccuracy as time went on,” said Tucker.

The changes were all done on the original paper, in some cases with different layers of Mylar and tape that was cut with an Xacto knife, in other cases they were drawn in.

“That district isn’t even there anymore,” he said, pointing to a series of lines on the now decommissioned map, “It hasn’t been there in 10 years,”

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Preview: Town Meeting November 9th

Representatives from across Amherst will vote for or against a number of articles on updating and expanding town infrastructure and services. Included in these articles are proposals to create a committee that will explore the possibilities of regionalizing Amherst’s school districts, on affordable housing, the purchase of land to protect Amherst’s watershed, expanding Amherst’s sewers, bridge repair, and the recreation of a committee on homelessness.

Larry Orloff, a town representative of Precinct 3, says that he believes that most of the articles that will be considered tonight will be “more or less routine”. One article that he believed might stir controversy is Article 11, which proposes an extension of sewer lines.

Mr. Orloff said he was “interested in finding out whether this appropriation is truly necessary” and if the cost will be fairly shared between the homeowners who will benefit from the new sewer line, and those who are using existing sewers.

Aaron Hayden, the town Clerk on the Amherst Select Board, explained a number of the articles, saying that he did not expect too much controversy. On Article 11, he explained that the expansion of sewers was a public service, though he said there “might be some anti-tax people” that object.

He doubted that the town meeting would get to discuss the reinstatement of the Homelessness Committee, which was dismantled in August. On the issue, he said it was important to consider “what the town can actually accomplish.”

“Amherst is not going to completely eliminate homelessness,” he said.

Storm-hit Sunderland residents move on at local diner

By Daniel Nott

The early snow cause many trees in the area to fall, such as this one on Route 47 in Sunderland, tearing down power lines and blocking roads.

With the snow from late October’s devastating storm nearly all melted, and power mostly returned to the last of the Pioneer Valley’s residents, the signs of a community moving on are visible. In Sunderland, which Western Massachusetts Electric Company said was the hardest hit of its towns in the storm, there is no better sign of a return to normalcy than tables filled with talkative locals at the Dove’s Nest Restaurant.

In the days following the storm, the dedicated regulars of the Dove’s Nest, which is the exclusive provider of diner food and atmosphere in Sunderland, weren’t able to congregate at the restaurant. Even if town residents could have navigated slippery maze of streets blocked by fallen trees, the restaurant, like much of the town, didn’t have power for days.

“We’ve never lost power for that long,” said Nancy Capen, who owns the Doves Nest. “Usually it’s just for a few hours.” She added that they have been busier than usual since they reopened on Wednesday.

The atmosphere in the restaurant on Friday was jubilant and excited, with locals meeting over home-cooked lunch and congratulating each other on their survival from across the room. The room was alive with similar takes on the same story—falling trees and their experiences without power.

Sunderland, a small town of under 4,000 people, is ten minutes down 116 from Amherst, but is part of Franklin County. According to the Amherst Bulletin, certain Sunderland residents required medical assistance for carbon monoxide poisoning after trying to heat their homes with an outdoor grill. Firefighters in Sunderland were making house-to-house wellness checks to make sure people had the resources they needed.

However, by Sunday, you could tell that the excitement of the episode was waning, and the conversation returned to the day’s specials and casual town talk, with an occasional storm story thrown in.

Bill, a regular who did not provide his last name (Upon asking, Nancy said that you never really any need to know someone’s last name), described his experience as “cold.” He said he didn’t have power for more than three days, which he said was the longest he’s ever been without electricity. “They still don’t have power in Springfield,” he said, adding that he was thankful he had his power returned.

Luke, a wait staff at the Dove’s Nest, told how he had a close call driving that Saturday of the storm. Without realizing how slippery it was, he lost control of his car, which spun around 270 degrees before coming to a stop.

This photo taken at UMass shows a tree that split under the weight of the heavy wet snow that fell in the late October storm.

“[The storm] happened so quick that they didn’t have time to put salt or sand down,” Luke said. He said that he measured 18 inches of snow at his house. According to Amherst Town Manager John Musante, most of the area received around 10 inches of heavy, wet snow.

Another regular at the Doves Nest, Richard Strycharz, walked in to a chorus of greetings by the staff and customers. He said he’s been coming to the Dove’s Nest since a man he referred to as “Wildcat” ran it in the 80’s. His son runs Walter’s Propane out of Sunderland, though he says most people associate him with it.

“My father ran that company for over 50 years,” Strycharz said. “I had it for a half an hour and gave it to my son.” He explained that he favored doing the entry-level jobs at the business where he can meet people around town, over doing work just for the money. He said that many generators run on propane, so following the storm there was a massive panic for people to fill their tanks, even if they were in no danger of running out.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people have permanent generators installed,” he said. The only time in recent memory that there had been such a high demand was in the months leading up to 2000, or “Y2K,” when everyone thought the electronic infrastructure of the country was going to shut down. Strycharz said they saw more generators in those 6 months prior than ever before. He also recalled 1962 as a time where people bought generators in anticipation of the end of the world.

Strycharz said that the reason this storm was so bad was because of the amount of downed trees resulting from the early snow. When these trees fell, they took out the high-voltage “primary” lines, destroying transformers and knocking out power for large areas at a time.

The Dove's Nest on 116 in Sunderland re-opened the Wednesday following saturday's storm, giving local residents a place to chat and eat a warm, homey meal.

Strycharz said he lost power for 4 days which, like the others, was the longest he could ever remember losing power for.

As he continued talking, the conversation moved from the weather to the work he had done as an electrician at UMass, the National Rifle Association, and of course, the chicken meal that Nancy put in front of him. And with that, it seemed that the now-distant 2011 October storm would become just another memory to share over brunch at the local diner.

Police Log Reporting

Man Arrested in North Hampton for Possession of Heroin, Intent to Distribute.

A 38-year old man was arrested in North Hampton on September 15th on suspicion of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, according to North Hampton Police Department. The arrest is the result of an ongoing investigation into the distribution of heroin in Greenfield and Montague.

Marcelino Ortiz, 38, was investigated after officers gathered information from two sources that Ortiz was making daily trips from his home in Turner’s Falls to Holyoke to purchase “bundles” of heroin, which he would then distribute to waiting customers in the Greenfield Montague area.

Officers following Ortiz found that his behavior was consistent with that of individuals engaged in narcotics trafficking. He was pulled over after police surveillance provided probable cause that he was in possession of illicit drugs.

After being informed of his rights, Ortiz said he was willing to speak with officers, and stated that he was driving to Holyoke to pick up a “nickel-bag” of marijuana. When one of the officers said that he believed Ortiz had a heroin addiction and was going to Holyoke to pick up heroin, Ortiz continued to deny that he was picking up heroin. He added that he had already consumed heroin earlier in the day and was afraid to purchase heroin in Holyoke because he believed the police were following him.

Following a search of Ortiz that revealed 20 bags of heroin, Ortiz said he wanted to cooperate. Ortiz was transported to North Hampton Police Department, where he admitted to buying and selling heroin in an audio/video interview.

Ortiz was charged with subsequent possession of a Class A drug with intent to distribute.

Car Collision in Florence

Two cars collided on Bridge Road in Florence, Ma on Oct.25th, injuring one. Robin Graves, 38, of South Hadley was stopped on Bridge Road waiting for the car in front of her to make a left turn when she was rear-ended by Courtney Macdonald, 19 of West Hampton. Macdonald stated that she looked at her friend for a second and did not see that Graves had stopped. Graves was transported to Cooley-Dickenson Hospital after complaining of pain in her neck, back, and head. Her condition is unknown.

It’s a Nightly Process at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian

By Daniel Nott

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put out a daily newspaper?

 At the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, an independent newspaper at UMass Amherst, a group of dedicated students do just that. Every night, the staff produces on average an 8-page paper with sections for News, Arts & Living, Editorial/Opinion, Comics, and Sports that makes up the largest College Daily in New England.

The managing editor, Chris Shores, explained how they divide the labor to get each article from a student’s idea to a printed newspaper story every morning, and discussed some of the challenges of the process.

The Collegian office, located in the basement of the Campus Center, is divided into a business room, a newsroom, and a graphics room. The rooms are filled with long desks crowded with computers and old copies of the Collegian, and the walls are adorned with taped-up quotes and inside jokes.

The business room mostly draws its staff from Isenberg School of Management and other business majors. The business staff deals with advertising, which as an independent newspaper, is where the Collegian gets all of its funding. By the time that the writers and editors come in after class at around 4 or 5 p.m., the business room has sold ads to local businesses and placed them in the next day’s layout.

It is then the job of the section editor, or one of their assistants, to come in and electronically collect the stories submitted by writers. Each section may have thirty to forty writers, though most of the writing tends to come from a core group of writers.

When asked how many writers work for Arts&Living, Garth Brody, an Arts assistant, said they have about 40 writers on their mailing list, and every week about 15 show up for the weekly meetings—though they may or may not be the ones writing stories for that week.

Weekly meetings provide a way for each section editor to communicate directly with their writers and plan the content to be covered. The photo editor, Hannah Cohen, also uses this structure to assign photographers to events and discuss the week’s “Feature photos,” which are printed in special boxes in the Collegian as well as published to the newspaper’s Flickr account.

When the section editor or assistant receives their stories, which are almost always sent through email from the dorms or off-campus, they make editorial changes. The section editor or assistant is responsible for making sure the content is factually accurate and well written. From there, the revised story gets sent to the copy editor.

At the time, Felicity Watts was copy-editing a story on the 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” written by Collegian columnist and copy editor, Emily Felder. Watts said that by the time stories get to her, it is mostly about improving grammar and sentence structure, as well as fact-checking names. Each article will also have to be approved by the night editor before being placed by the paper’s graphics staff.

While the articles are going through editing, the section editor or assistant hand-draws a layout based on the word count of the articles they received, trying to balance the text with pictures taken by the photography staff. This layout gets an okay from the night editor, and is sent to the graphics room where it is translated into a digital document where articles and photographs can be placed. The graphics staff may use a “Lorum Ipsum” word-count generator, which provides a Latin story of the same length that can be used to figure out story placement. When both the copy-editor and the night editor have signed off on the stories, it then becomes quick and easy to swap the Latin word counts for the real story.

From there, the last thing a section editor or assistant has to do is write headlines for the day’s stories, and cut lines describing the pictures. The night editor checks the printout for mistakes once more before the layout it is converted to a PDF and checked again by the graphics supervisor, who then sends it to the printing company, Turley Publications in Palmer, Mass. The graphics supervisor and night editor, who are often in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning, give the printer 10 minutes to go over the paper to make sure there are no issues before their job is done.

The last step involves a Collegian distribution team picking up the papers at the loading dock in the morning, and placing them around campus where students are most likely to pick them up.

Of course, the Collegian never runs exactly like this, and there are snags and problems to be solved along the way. Writers often get upset when editors alter their stories, which is an issue Shores said the paper is always working on. “Even sending them an email” to give the writers a chance to defend themselves can make a big difference, he said. He explained that because writers at the Collegian are not paid, it becomes important to work with and not isolate them. There are also nightly issues such as what content goes on the front page, which is a discussion between the night editor and the news editor or assistant.

He also addressed some of the more serious blunders in the Collegian’s recent history, such as a February opinion piece in which a female columnist argued that women who are raped are sometimes “victims of [their] own choices.” The article caused an outrage and debate on campus as well as within the Collegian.

Shores, who took the job of managing editor this year, said that the most important things he learned was the importance of communication, and that it’s important to not just “fall into the rhythm” of the job and assume the content is acceptable.

He said that this year, the Collegian has been focussing a lot more energy on multimedia for the papers website, DailyCollegian.com. The editors require multiple pieces of multimedia- such as podcasts, blogs, and slideshows- to be uploaded by each of the sections every week.

Shores said he spends a large amount of time at the Collegian as managing editor, and really likes his job, also highlighting the community aspect of working at the Collegian. “It’s my happy place,” he said with a smile.

While this graphic does not list all of the positions at the Collegian, it provides an overview of the paper's diverse operations.

Amherst’s Form-Based Zoning Debate Brings Contention, Confusion

By Daniel Nott

On October 19th, about forty local Amherst residents met at their town hall to debate and ask questions about the future of their town—by way of a zoning regulation amendment. The debate has brought together a very diverse group of concerns about development, and a fair amount of confusion.

Fundamentally, the campaign is about updating and altering the zoning regulations for the North Amherst Village Center and Atkins Corners in South Amherst. According to the proposal, the amendment would allow North Amherst and Atkins Corners to be developed using a format called “Form-Based Zoning,” which would create  “Village Centers” with a carefully regulated mix of commercial, residential, entertainment, civic, and recreational uses. The amendment outlines six different street forms that would be implemented based on what is appropriate for the location. Passage of the zoning amendment could bring in new and updated amenities, in an area where some of the sidewalks and roads appear to have fallen by the wayside.

Much of the debate and contention is based in North Amherst, particularly on Montague road, where some residents feel that the changes will push families out, and pull more college students in. College housing is generally easy to spot in North Amherst, and is a frequent source of contention between some long-term town residents and providers of student housing. Particularly in areas such as Meadow Street, many of the houses are garnished with cars parked in front lawns and the couches on their porches.

In addition to the controversial nature of the development proposal, there is also the problem of education on the issue. The confusion is understandable. The group of student journalists who attended the planning board meeting were invited to take a collection of literature and public statements on the issue, which contained over a hundred pages.

A selection of the information regarding the Form-Based-Zoning debate in Amherst.

As the meeting started following opening formalities, some of the Amherst Planning Board members commented on details of the 97-page amendment as it stood. Richard Roznoy said that the board was missing a great opportunity by not elaborating on public transportation. Constance Kruger complained that the definition of “condominium” was not precise enough. Bruce Carson recommended postponing the process to give more time to consideration.

Then came the community members.

Seymour Epstein has lived in South Amherst for 50 years. He said there was a shooting range by his house that causes a lot of noise, and proposed a state law that says no gun club can shoot on a person’s property. But he said the NRA would never allow it. When the planning board Chairman asked him to stay on topic, Mr. Epstein said that because of the shooting, the proposed land was too noisy for development and could cause cognitive deficits in developing children, before taking his seat again.

Mr. Epstein’s wife, Alice, then stood up to highlight the need for consideration on what types of construction would be appropriate for the area. A board member replied that a “special permit” is required for any potentially objectionable business.

North Amherst resident Valerie Cooley admitted she was skeptical of the proposal, but denied a board member’s alleged characterization that she was “anti-change,” just for having questions. “You’re asking us to accept zoning changes that don’t guarantee us anything,” she said.

Others felt strongly that the proposed re-zoning amendment would greatly benefit North Amherst. One resident stood up to quickly state he strongly favors the amendments, because he believes having dense village centers will improve their quality of life.

Amherst resident Melissa Perot also felt strongly that North Amherst needed development and revitalization, calling the section of town a “food desert” because of the lack of nearby access to groceries. However, she expressed skepticism toward the process taken by the planning board and voiced concern that the development would bring in more multi-family block housing.

As the public forum continued, community members gave voice to their perspective, and it was clear that there was confusion as to what the changes will eventually entail.

One community member pointed to a section in the amendment that outlined guidelines for parking garages, asking how that complied with goals to reduce traffic as described by the Amherst Master Plan, which was adopted in February 2010.

A board member responded that they were only stylistic guidelines, and there were no plans to build any parking garages in North Amherst or Atkins Corners.

Jim Bernotas, who owns a machine shop, was worried that his business would be barred from operating under the new zoning regulations, which a board member assured him was not the case.

Toward the end, community member Ludmilla Pavlova stood up and said that the proposal is too confusing, noting that the amendment is 97 pages long and is filled with form-based zoning jargon that most people should not be expected to understand.

Jonathon O’Keefe replied that there was a public information meeting— two actually, where the public could go to get information.

However, Board member Richard Roznoy replied that more words may only make it more confusing, and that what was needed was to maximize conceptual understanding of the case.

The Amherst Planning Board’s Zoning Subcommittee will be meeting  Wednesday, November 2nd, at 5:30, which will be followed by a Planning Board meeting at 7:00. Both meetings are open to the public.

Tiger Woods breaks silence: “I was wrong, I was foolish.”

Tiger Woods broke his silence on Friday, February 19th, and addressed the public, his sponsors, family and friends on his series of affairs that have been widely publicized since breaking in Thanksgiving.

Appearing somber and speaking slowly and carefully, Mr. Woods apologized profusely to the public in a small room set up for the conference, saying “For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for.”

“Everyone of you has a reason to be critical of me,” he said early on in the conference. “I had affairs, I cheated. What I did was irresponsible, and only I am to blame.”

Addressing questions over how he could commit such a series of affairs while also serving as a national role model, he said:

“I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.” “I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to,” adding afterwards that “I don’t get to play by different rules” and “I was wrong, I was foolish.”

He said he understood that people wanted the details of the the affairs, and his relationship with his wife. He said that him and his wife, Elin, had begun discussing the damage done, but that apology would not come from words, but from “behavior over time.”

He also cautioned the press, saying that “these are issues between a husband and wife.” His tone appeared almost aggressive when describing how paparazzi had dragged his family into problems that were strictly his doing.

“Whatever my wrongdoings,” he said, “for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone.”

“They did not do these things, I did,” he added.

He made it clear that the work his foundation has done providing children with education will continue.

“Millions of kids have changed their lives and I am dedicated to making sure that continues.”

“It’s not what you achieve in life,” he said, “its what you overcome. Character and decency is what counts.”