Three in running for Amherst’s two District 4 council seats

  • Pamela Rooney

  • Evan Ross

  • Anika Lopes

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2021 8:48:18 PM

AMHERST — Three residents, challengers Anika Lopes and Pamela Rooney and incumbent Evan Ross, are seeking the two seats to represent District 4 on the Town Council in the Nov. 2 town election.

Ross said he is running again to build on progress made in the past three years, with a specific focus on addressing the town’s housing crisis.

“We’ve moved our community forward on climate, housing, racial equity and capital investments,” Ross said. “But the actions we’ve taken were just first steps. We have a lot more work to do and I want to use the skills, experiences and knowledge I’ve gained from my service on the council to continue to move us forward.”

On housing, Ross said low- and moderate-income families are finding their budgets strained by high costs, with some being pushed out of town. In addition, young professionals and young families can’t find homes as starter dwellings are being bought up to become student rentals.

“If we want a diverse and inclusive community that lives up to our values around equity, opportunity and sustainability, we need to tackle housing affordability,” Ross said.

Ross said his vision for Amherst is one where anyone who wants to live in Amherst can afford to do so, where town services serve all residents equitably, where children go to schools in buildings that support their learning, and the town library is accessible to all. In addition, Ross said downtown should be a destination for residents and tourists, and Amherst should have a lens of racial equity and climate action for all planning and decision-making.

Ross cites the council’s achievements as three new affordable housing developments, strengthening the inclusionary zoning bylaw, establishing climate action goals, moving forward the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library, helping get Amherst back into the state process for a new elementary school, and establishing a community responder program to provide a police alternative for responding to nonviolent incidents.

“This is an incredible record of accomplishments for our first Town Council,” Ross said.

Pamela Rooney

Rooney said she is running to represent perspectives that are getting shortchanged by the majority of the Town Council, and to make it easier for residents to participate in their government.

“My focus has been on zoning,” Rooney said. “I’m pushing for planning first, and adjusting of zoning second.”

She said the Town Council has moved forward with multiple zoning changes even before good design guidelines for town centers are agreed upon, or impacts have been analyzed.

Rooney notes that Amherst faces severe erosion of housing availability for families and moderate-income people due to the presence of the University of Massachusetts.

“Fewer homeowners means fewer permanent residents who become good neighbors and contribute time and energy to the schools and to the wider community,” Rooney said.

Rooney said she will strive to maintain town services and infrastructure, and to create a town center with attractive buildings and sidewalks that can draw people in and encourage a bustle of activity.

“I credit the first council for much good work that was accomplished in setting up systems and processes,” Rooney said. “I want to build on that work, to make it easier for citizen participation and to improve communications to and from the council.”

Anika Lopes

Lopes said a priority in her campaign is ensuring the availability of housing for non-students at all income levels and to bridge divides so future housing developments can be positive for developers and neighbors.

“I’m running for Town Council to create opportunities for underserved youth and families so they can have access to the resources they need like everyone else, to bring creative solutions to historical challenges including housing availability, and job opportunities that keep our young professionals in town,” Lopes said.

When Lopes returned to Amherst last year, she helped get the Civil War tablets back on display and supported having a Black and Indigenous History of Amherst museum or gallery, and interactive historical walk.

“As someone who puts the B and the I in BIPOC, I’m excited about the possibility of representing the streets where my family has lived for generations,” Lopes said. “The town of Amherst understands that systemic racism and systems of economic discrimination have denied the BIPOC community basic opportunities, and has pledged to interrupt this generational disadvantage with measures that level the field for our BIPOC youth.”

She is supporting having a BIPOC teen center and building generational wealth.

Lopes said she has gratitude for the work done by the inaugural councilors.

“It’s incredible to think that 13 people who served on the first term basically initiated a new form of government with an unknown system,” Lopes said. “In turn, there is great responsibility to learn from its failures and implement policy, procedures and programs that create a town where all residents are afforded the opportunity to thrive.”

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