A Sideways Glance with Richard Bogartz: Between a library and a church, what could go wrong?

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Lately I’ve been reluctant to write about town politics. I’m not sure why.

   Perhaps it’s because so often I’ve seen the fiery issues of the day quickly fade into dim memories as the next desperately important issue arose. Another aspect might be how often it turns into winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, where it doesn’t look that way to me. I almost always read the struggles as all good guys who come at issues from different perspectives, with different desires and sometimes different facts.

For some reason the garage being proposed for the area east of North Prospect between the Jones Library and St. Brigid’s Church has lured me in. And I’m not sure why. Maybe there’s no good reason and I’ll regret wandering into no-man’s land, but here goes.

I’m confident that those who favor the garage have different and legitimate sets of motives: a perceived need for more in-town parking; individual financial gain; increased tax income for the town; perhaps even concern for parking for the increasing numbers of in-town tenants.

Opponents of the garage also have various legitimate reasons. Some support the residents and owners on North Prospect Street who strongly object to a parking garage across the street from their homes. Others cite studies that have repeatedly found there is parking in the downtown area that is sufficient to meet the demand.

Concern for increased traffic on a one-way street might be another issue although, in the past, traffic issues used to support “not in my backyard” positions have usually proved to be fictions. However, with the garage’s exit onto one-lane, one-way North Prospect Street, I can imagine truth rather than fiction. The exit from North Prospect encounters cross traffic on Amity Street with some difficulties in seeing oncoming traffic from the west, as I recall. At times of exodus from the garage, things could get messy.

If I lived on North Prospect Street I would not be enchanted by the concentration of car exhausts, but this is an objection I have not yet seen in the paper.

What I have seen is that former District 4 Councilor Evan Ross suggests the new garage will set the stage for improving on the “hodgepodge” of Amherst’s surface lots. I’m not sure what Ross means. One interpretation is there is something wrong with a multitude of relatively small parking lots in a variety of locations. I guess I would like to hear what’s wrong about that before I accept the notion of “improving.”

Ross suggests it will be good to have a centralized parking destination to support businesses and downtown events, and allow business to grow and thrive. Support of business and events seems sensible to me, but it is not so clear that a centralized parking destination next to residences is the best path.

Another argument I’ve heard is that we already have an underused parking garage on Boltwood Walk, with substantial buffering between it and the Kellogg Avenue residences, that was built to support building upward for expansion to greater capacity when the need arises. If one is going to claim, despite the contrary evidence, that the need has arisen, why isn’t the Boltwood Walk garage being considered?

Possibly, despite opposition arguments, town government will move toward construction of the envisioned garage. I hope if things go in this direction, we’ll hear the town and the developer acknowledge effects on residents and owners of the impacted North Prospect Street houses and propose compensation? There’s no question this would be appropriate.

Some forms compensation could take might be: for owners, compensation for the loss in value of their property; for residents, owner or renter, permanent free parking in the garage; for the property, free water and sewer and zero property taxes for the life of the garage, with rent adjustment for rentals if the utilities are paid for by the landlord. The mechanism for enforcing the rent adjustment requires more creative minds than mine. Those minds can probably imagine better compensations than the ones that have occurred to me.

There, I did it and I’m glad. And I deny that this Sideways Glance is political. I take politics to be getting people to do what you want them to do. But I have no dog in this fight and still am not sure why I took this up.

Happy New Year, all. May you all take a moment to appreciate how amazingly wonderful it is to be alive.

Richard S. Bogartz is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.