Candidates for Select Board debate Retreat
AMHERST — A controversial student housing project in the Cushman section of Amherst is opposed by two of the four candidates running for Select Board.
Helen Berg of 902 North Pleasant St. and Andy Steinberg of 17 Hitching Post Road said they oppose The Retreat student housing project, while John Boothroyd of 22 Longmeadow Drive offered lukewarm support and Connie Kruger of 15 Hop Brook Road said she could offer no opinion because of her position on the Planning Board.
The four candidates for two, three-year seats on the Select Board in the March 25 election spoke Tuesday night during a two-hour forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters in the Town Room at Town Hall. The winners will succeed incumbents Stephanie O’Keeffe and Diana Stein who are not seeking re-election.
Berg said the wilderness where the homes at The Retreat would be built needs to be protected. “North Amherst village cannot sustain and does not support that development,” she added.
Steinberg said the site is too far from the University of Massachusetts campus and would have too great an impact on surrounding streets. “Cushman Woods is not the right location,” he added.
Boothroyd agreed that the project site is too distant from UMass and that it would increase traffic by 800 or more vehicles daily, but that the developer has the right to build it.
As a Planning Board member reviewing the project, Kruger said she cannot publicly express her position on the project, but she has confidence in the review process.
Steinberg, a nearly 35-year Amherst resident and chairman of the Finance Committee, said there is a need to improve tax support for town services without increasing the tax burden on homeowners or raising rents for tenants.
He supports strengthening village centers and improving parking in downtown Amherst.
“We really need to do something to make sure that our downtown and village centers are vital,” said Steinberg, who retired after directing Western Massachusetts Legal Services.
Creating more housing means Amherst will remain a community with people from all backgrounds. “We cannot be a diverse community if our housing is not affordable,” Steinberg said.
Kruger, a professional planner for more than 30 years, said she would focus on finding sites for affordable housing, especially for young families and young professionals.
She wants to encourage a strong local economy to support emerging businesses and to keep existing businesses.
Making Amherst welcoming for all residents and promoting social justice is another goal, she said.
“If elected, you can count on me to promote housing development in appropriate locations,” Kruger said, adding that she would encourage collaborative partnerships with UMass and Amherst and Hampshire colleges.
But Berg, a retired journalist, said she would emphasize transparency and accountability in town government, and that she views economic development as taking advantage of local college students.
“What I would like to see happen here is not treating students as assets and put education back into UMass,” Berg said.
In fact, Berg said she would prefer to curtail the growth of UMass, which would make housing more affordable. She said she believes promoting tourism is a way to improve the economy, suggesting she would get back Emily Dickinson manuscripts from Harvard and have them stored at Amherst College.
Berg also endorses the concept of a more vibrant, walkable downtown, which she said could be achieved by permanently closing one or more streets to automobile traffic and creating a pedestrian mall.
Boothroyd, a 45-year resident of Amherst who worked for Kollmorgen in Northampton, said he sees the current administration in conflict with neighborhoods due to a lack of communication.
“The administration needs to listen to neighbors more about what they want,” Boothroyd said.
He characterizes himself as anti-development, but does not want to be perceived as disruptive. “I certainly want to bring a different look on things,” Boothroyd said.
He said any development in town should focus on providing more well-paying jobs.