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Town-gown consultant in the works for Amherst

AMHERST — A consultant who will assist University of Massachusetts and Amherst officials in developing strategies to deal with issues related to housing, economic development and public safety could be hired by Feb. 1.

The town-gown steering committee, formed last month, met for the first time Wednesday to begin drafting a “request for proposal” document and to spend up to $60,000, half provided by UMass and half by the town, to pay for the consultant’s work.

Committee co-chairwoman Nancy Buffone described the initial session as a productive meeting in which the 22 members set a timeline for hiring the consultant and discussed the topics that could be included in a completed plan.

Buffone, executive director of external relations and university events at UMass, said the ambitious timeline has the advertisement done by Dec. 1, followed by interviews and recommendations to both Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Town Manager John Musante. Once a consultant is selected, UMass will handle the procurement process.

Topics the committee is considering include providing sufficient housing for students, faculty and staff members and low-income residents, promoting retail and commercial development, adding new research and laboratory space, ensuring there are entertainment venues that appeal to college students and having sustainable transportation opportunities.

“Our next meeting will be about which items are the most critical which we can have the consultant to help plan,” Buffone said.

The idea is that the end result will serve to address issues that confront the campus and the town, particularly the neighborhoods closest to the campus, where student behavior can impact residents.

Co-chairman David Ziomek, assistant town manager, said there will be opportunity for public input.

Besides the brainstorming, the committee began its work this week by receiving a brief overview of the completed master plans for both the town and at the campus. The goal is to have the study complete by May 1. The committee next meets Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. at the UMass police station community room.

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