Incumbent could be odd man out for Amherst Planning Board

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 8/29/2020 10:53:37 AM

AMHERST — Three newcomers are being recommended to the Town Council for appointment for three-year terms to the seven-member Planning Board, meaning an incumbent could be departing the panel.

The Community Resources Committee, in a 3-1 vote with District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz in the minority, is supporting the appointments of residents Johanna Neumann, Thom Long and Andrew MacDougall to the board that reviews site plans and projects and offers input on zoning changes. All would serve until June 30, 2023.

That recommendation, if approved by the full council, means that Michal Birtwistle, the lone incumbent among six applicants for the board, will depart. Birtwistle was first appointed four years ago. The other applicants not being recommended are Bob Greeney and Adrian Fabos.

Birtwistle has occasionally taken contrarian views while on the Planning Board, including last year when he was the only member to vote against removing public shade trees to make way for a mixed-use project on South East Street, and in 2016 when he similarly was the lone member to vote not to remove trees so a roundabout could be constructed downtown.

According to a memo from the committee, the final choice for recommendation came down to MacDougall and Birtwistle, with At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke and District 4 Councilors Evan Ross and Steve Schreiber supporting MacDougall due to his extensive travel and nationwide real estate experience from his work in the banking field, and Swartz backing Birtwistle.

“After extensive discussion, Councilor Swartz believed that Mr. Birtwistle’s historical knowledge and experience as one of the longest-serving members of the Planning Board could not be replicated and was invaluable in a board that has consistently been referred to as inexperienced and young,” the memo notes.

But the work experience prevailed for MacDougall, with the memo stating that he has “a needed background on the Planning Board that had been identified as missing for a number of years and therefore outweighed the re-appointment of Mr. Birtwistle and the experience and historical knowledge his re-appointment would bring.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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