Guest columnist Cinda Jones: Recognizing obstructionism as simply a noise-maker

  • Siblings Evan and Cinda Jones, pictured in 2016, represent the ninth generation of family management for the Cowls Companies in North Amherst. Gazette File photo

Published: 4/15/2021 1:07:35 PM

Our town and its citizens have limited and critical resources of time, money and people. All three of these finite resources are being misappropriated by petition authors who admit that their goal in filing a petition article for a moratorium on building was not in fact to pass a moratorium on building. I was told by an author: “Of course we know we don’t have the Town Council votes to pass a building moratorium — we’re not stupid!”

Petitioners’ expressed goals in filing this petition article were:

■To give planners more time to write zoning bylaw revisions before another Archipelago building can be permitted (The petition article due process has actually afforded planning staff less time);

■To obstruct redevelopment downtown (though they say they only have a beef with one player); and

■To be heard. (After staff already pledged to hold more public meetings to hear more input and to evaluate and make changes to zoning to address issues of density, setbacks, height, green space, the desire for retail and activated public environments.)

Perennial detractors are now rallying for more signatures and lobbying for support of this unwinnable cause with gross overstatements, exaggerations, misinformation, and uncivil personal attacks.

Business owners, community investors and lovers of a vibrant downtown have been deafeningly silent in response to the “building moratorium.”

Why? Most doers won’t take time to weigh in because the article has no chance of passing. We’re busy trying to make a living in the most challenging economic time. We don’t want to suffer the vile emails and highly personal attacks in the newspaper and on social media, like others who’ve spoken up. And we recognize this old-style town meeting filibuster move as another thing to wait out before we can hope for a better day with more people living and shopping downtown, justifying and sustaining retail stores.

Who are we and what is the impact of this petition article on people like us?

We give horse wagon rides and donations and baseball jerseys and ice cream and we pour our entire savings and risk our families’ futures by taking out vast loans in order to invest in and improve the town where we grew up.

We are bleeding in so many ways from the expense of this obstruction of progress.

We shuttered our businesses before their time to make room for a future we want to see. We didn’t renew leases for spaces — even though we need the income to pay our bills. We run dry cleaners and ice cream parlors because tenants aren’t running them anymore. We buy lots and make payments on opportunities. We mortgage our homes and everything we have to build the next great thing.

The banks watch us wondering if we can make payments if our tenants make rent. We see taxes not collected and enhancements not coming. Downtown improvement fees aren’t collected from empty storefronts.

Yet they say they like us, love us, appreciate us and patronize us because they value retail. But then they say they can’t eat out during COVID — not even take out — and haven’t been downtown in a year.

They say “one can’t buy socks downtown anymore.” Yet we count at least five places — Hastings, Clay’s, Zanna, Toy Box, and CVS — that do sell socks and we realize that “They” do not actually shop downtown after all.

They rally people against the success of our investments and advise us on our business and take polls on social media to tell us what and how to build — yet market realities have proven their demand is verbal, not actual.

They call from apartment complexes where they live and say more buildings like theirs should not be built.

They say the town needs time to do market research that has been done. Time to analyze who needs housing with what kinds of amenities before they allow progress. As if investors don’t do market research before we invest $30 million.

Let’s get real. With about 60% of all rentals occupied by students in Amherst, the problem our community has with growth is the fear of unruly students disrupting life in residential neighborhoods. We need to find a way to deal with that, and not continue to make ineffectual and expensive psudo efforts to stop all kinds of progress.

One solution to stop suffering from screaming frat parties, red cups and obnoxious student behavior in residential neighborhoods is actually permitting more managed apartment buildings, which relieve the pressure on neighborhood single-family houses.

If we want to change Amherst’s demographic ratio of two-third students to one-third residents, then we should be actively incentivizing building condos for first, last and workforce homebuyers. We should not try to stop all construction.

Let’s move forward together to proactively achieve the experiential, welcoming, sunlight-filled, retail-rich, attractive, multi-generational town we all desire. Let’s commit to shopping local more often.

Let’s listen to each other more, making minority voices feel heard and respected, and using all available resources — our collective time, money, and people — together achieving the best possible return on these investments, toward a more sustainable community.

Cinda Jones is the ninth generation of her family to sustainably manage local forests and build community on the Cowls Home Farm in North Amherst, today called The Mill District.

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