Amherst council’s vote on North Common project needs redo

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2021

AMHERST — The Town Council must revisit its decision to renovate the North Common by eliminating the Main Street parking lot made after it failed to hold a public hearing on the project in accordance with the council’s Public Ways Policy, which requires such a hearing when making permanent changes to a public way. Councilors now plan to a formal public hearing and a second vote on the $1.44 million renovation of the landscape in front of Town Hall.

In an April 2 memo to her fellow councilors, Council President Lynn Griesemer explained that the council’s Public Ways Policy requires an official public hearing for the North Common project, even though it was referred to the Town Services and Outreach Committee, two full council sessions were held with the committee, and public comment was collected at the March 22 Town Council meeting. The project was approved by an 8-5 vote.

But Griesemer wrote that one councilor reached out that she had not gotten the final two plans in time so she could approach her constituents for feedback, and that another councilor also sought information about the revenues generated by the spaces in the Main Street parking lot. The 34-space lot would be replaced with grass, trees and a paved plaza.

“My present conclusion is that we will need to post a hearing; provide both the drawings and the parking revenue information and hold a hearing and possibly a new vote,” Griesemer wrote.

The council’s decision on the project is seen as a way to improve what is considered a long-neglected area and provide the Town Hall a new front lawn and more attractive space for events, such as the Merry Maple celebration, and for people to relax.

Griesemer’s memo was supported by an opinion from town attorney Devan Braun of KP Law. The Town Council only met one of the elements of the Public Ways Policy, that “prior to taking action, refer, as necessary, to the appropriate committee and/or Town Manager for review, recommendation, and/or advice,” and didn’t meet the second element, “hold a public hearing on the request.”

“In my opinion, the Town Council, as the keeper of the public way, must hold a formal public hearing on the proposal to make permanent parking changes to a public way, which will require further advertising of the matter and a second vote on the issue,” Braun wrote in an April 1 memo.

That public hearing could happen in May and, as long as the vote is in favor again, would not set back the project that is likely to get underway next year.