Monday, May 10, 2010

Bravo Mr. Shaffer!

The most controversial issue on this season's Town Meeting warrant is sure to be the "Patterson property."

Mr. Shaffer, Amherst's Town Manager, wants to spend up to $120,000 to jump-start the development of some land in North Amherst. This is controversial for at least two reasons: first, there's a minority of town meeting that is against any development anywhere in Amherst. And then there's another group of people who just don't like the idea of giving tax money to a private landowner to help them sell and develop their property.

I might be in that second group-- I haven't entirely made up my mind. I'm generally skeptical of top-down, "if we build it the tax revenue will come" plans, but I do think that a big research park on this property would be good for the Town (it is a good location, near the University and highway 116, and would diversify the Town's tax base, which I suspect we'll find out is important if the State budget gets worse and Beacon Hill decides to drastically cut the UMass budget).

But even though I might vote against the warrant article, I'm glad the Town Manager proposed it. He's consistently shown an entrepreneurial streak that I think is great for the Town:
  • He got lambasted a few years back for questioning the Boy Scout's use of Kendrick Park to sell Christmas trees. Messing with a cherished Amherst tradition was probably a bad idea, but I think it is OK to experiment and fail, and it is OK to ask hard questions like "what's the policy for private use of public spaces?"
  • Speaking of Kendrick Park, he's had the department of public works create an ice skating rink by flooding a flat spot in the winter. That's after a failed experiment to create a rink on the Town Common (turns out the Common isn't flat enough for a rink).
  • He's actively working on developing or redeveloping places in Town where it makes sense, like the former "fraternity row" on North Pleasant Street.
  • And, best of all, he's implemented rewards for Town employees who come up with ideas that generate revenue, save the Town money, or improve services.
So: Bravo, Mr. Shaffer! Keep experimenting; I think you've done a great job trying out low-cost ways of making Amherst a better place.

UPDATE 12 May: I'm wrong again! The Patterson property isn't the most controversial issue, because the Town Manager (wisely, I think) saw the confusion and controversy and decided to withdraw it from consideration this time around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on Mr. Shaffer and this proposal.

BUT are you sure that it's a minority in town that's against any development in town? I'm increasingly uncertain on this. Just why did an institution as moribund as Town Meeting survive two town-wide referenda in the past decade?

I think it's because voters knew that they can a) sleep through it, not participate, and someone else will take care of it and b) it could be relied upon to maintain the status quo landscape in town with as little vigilance as possible.

If being for development in town means: "yes, as long as it's a long way away from my house in town", then how pro-development are you?

The recent political history of Amherst, including the pathetic turnout of candidates for TM and other offices, indicates one thing to me: "we like Amherst as it is." That's not my personal position completely, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I'M in the distinct minority.

Rich Morse