Four seek two Select Board seats in Amherst election
AMHERST — Providing suitable housing for people of all income levels, addressing the housing needs of college students and working for a robust economy in Amherst are common themes for the four Select Board candidates. But they have differing views on how best to achieve these objectives.
Connie Kruger, Helen Berg, John Boothroyd and Andrew Steinberg are seeking the two, three-year terms on Tuesday’s election ballot to succeed outgoing members Diana Stein and Stephanie O’Keeffe. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the 10 precincts.
Kruger, of 15 Hop Brook Road, believes she can lead the town on issues of economic development, housing and the social safety net.
“I feel like I have a strong background and skill set which matches what the town needs now,” Kruger said.
Kruger, 65, is a planning consultant, proprietor of Hop Brook Bed and Breakfast, and resident of Amherst since 1994. Her partner is Susan Tracy and she has one grown child, Sarah Thompson, and two grandchildren.
Kruger is chairwoman of the Amherst Housing Authority and a member of the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Subcommittee.
Amherst needs to reduce the impact of student housing on neighborhoods, she said. “We have to continue working toward finding denser student housing,” Kruger said.
As a Planning Board member, Kruger said taking a position on the proposed construction of The Retreat student housing project is not appropriate, but observed that the town’s permitting process will protect the public.
She has supported the mixed-use student housing Kendrick Place and the Olympia Oaks affordable housing project. “We can’t just produce affordable housing and not allow market-rate housing,” Kruger said.
Kruger said she endorsed negotiations for purchase of Echo Village Apartments, to be preserved as affordable housing, and wants to save affordable units at Rolling Green Apartments.
More commercial development will benefit the town, she said. “Every time we grow the commercial base we’re helping residents stay here,” Kruger said. “I understand a lot of seniors and people with disabilities are being priced out of town because of taxes.”
Promoting tourism focused on Emily Dickinson and economic development downtown are concepts central to Berg’s candidacy.
But Berg said she does not support any development that also provides new housing options for college students.
“Demographically, student enrollments are declining, so there’s no point in building more housing for students,” Berg said.
Berg, 57, of 902 North Pleasant St., is a retired journalist who volunteers at the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen and has advocated for bus transportation to the Amherst Survival Center.
She has lived in Amherst since 2007, when she returned from the Boston area. She attended UMass in the 1970s. Berg is divorced and has no children.
Because of Emily Dickinson’s prominence, Berg said she will focus on getting all the poet’s manuscripts housed in Amherst. “My idea is to make this a tourist destination,” Berg said.
Amherst’s rural character is being lost through developments too intense for the community, such as the proposed student housing project known as The Retreat, Berg said.
“I absolutely reject the Cushman Retreat,” Berg said. She argues that it would “trash” a wildlife corridor and become another place for college students to consume alcohol. “It will bring in traffic like you don’t know.”
She endorses the efforts to maintain low-income units at Echo Village and Rolling Green apartments. “People have been there on Section 8s for some time, and now the rug is being pulled out from under them,” Berg said.
Transparent government and increasing participation are additional objectives, she said. “My first goal will be to inform the residents of Amherst what’s going on at Town Hall,” Berg said. “I want to put education and critical thinking back into this town.”
A government more responsive to residents and ensuring people of all income levels, especially those in the middle class, can live and work in Amherst make up the platform of Boothroyd’s campaign.
“The town has to listen to the complaints of the neighborhoods,” Boothroyd said. “They need to be honest with people, and they need to address complaints and not ignore them.”
Boothroyd, 58, of 22 Longmeadow Drive, is a retired design engineer who has lived in Amherst since 1969 and served four years in the U.S. Air Force. Describing himself as single, Boothroyd is the father of two grown children, Jared and Samantha.
Boothroyd said transparency is lacking in town government. He pointed to construction of Butternut Farm affordable housing in his neighborhood and the plans to put solar arrays on the old landfill and student housing in Cushman.
“They’re cramming things down people’s throats and they’re not listening to neighborhoods,” Boothroyd said. “The Select Board cannot have that attitude that neighbors are just complaining.”
Boothroyd said he has mixed feelings about the proposed The Retreat student housing project, specifically that it would be too far from the UMass campus and would add vehicles to roads. “That’s a lot of traffic going through a lot of neighborhoods,” Boothroyd said.
Rather than building more student housing or low-income housing, Boothroyd said he would emphasize constructing housing for middle class residents.
“We’ve gone diverse, but we’ve gone the wrong way,” Boothroyd said. “We’ve actually got more low-income people than we should have.”
Economic development, he said, should focus on providing residents jobs. “If the town wants to bring in these people, they need to bring in jobs for them,” Boothroyd added.
Economic development that will strengthen the tax base and pave the way for the creation of both more affordable housing and student housing are ideas Steinberg has suggested during his campaign.
Steinberg, who has served on the town’s Finance Committee for eight years, said that expanding the revenue base to increase property taxes — but not on the backs of homeowners and renters — is essential. “The only way that happens is with new development,” he said.
Steinberg, 65, of 17 Hitching Post Road, is the retired executive director of Western Massachusetts Legal Services, now Community Legal Aid, and has lived in Amherst since 1980. He is married to Valerie and he has two grown children, Scott and Jennifer, and one grandchild.
He said he supports mixed-use projects and would work aggressively with UMass to attract spin-off businesses that could use new commercial space.
The already permitted mixed-use development Kendrick Place, on vacant land downtown, is the type of development he supports. “I think we are making progress, but we have a long way to go,” Steinberg said.
He believes that a Select Board which sets priorities and works with the town manager can achieve the right results for Amherst. “We need a very open, collaborative and transparent process,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg said he applauds the work town officials have done toward preserving affordable housing at Echo Village and Rolling Green apartments.
There is a need for private development of housing appropriate for college students, though he doesn’t support the proposal for The Retreat development in Cushman as currently envisioned. “The development on that particular location doesn’t make sense,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg said he wants to see municipal services preserved. “I want to maintain the quality of life for people here now and in the future,” he added.