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.
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.