Thank you for sharing your hopes and fears about the Town of Amherst with me. I am pleased to be receiving so many emails and texts from you about recent changes and possible future changes to Amherst’s downtown. As one letter-writer said, “I’m sorry to rant, but just wanted to pass along my concern.” I hear your concern loud and clear that the Town may be in the process of turning the Amherst downtown over to students who will be living in unsupervised buildings that do not meet the safety standards of approved dormitory buildings, paying high prices for individual beds, and driving out the small businesses which make Amherst a community.
SUMMARY of OPINIONS I’VE BEEN HEARING FROM YOU
The Town can get the needed new tax revenue by encouraging Sound Growth which includes workforce and more affordable family housing as well as housing for empty nesters and seniors with a mix of the small businesses and that give one a reason to go downtown in the first place! Art and culture have a place in downtown Amherst, available for all, not just siloed on the individual campuses. We all talk about what makes a stable and lively town, but our present zoning does not support that.
We are all too familiar with the well-documented process of many developers taking the opportunity to make short term profits before selling the tasteless buildings to anonymous corporations somewhere out of state. This is a process that has destroyed many college towns and led to the destruction of diverse and lively family neighborhoods and the erosion of Town life. We need to encourage builders and developers who value Amherst’s culture, history, and spirit. A new application for permits under the existing zoning is being processed.
The moratorium is needed now to ensure that all development is consistent with our vision for Amherst.
But it’s not enough to share your thoughts with me; please be sure to pass along your concerns in person, if possible. Monday’s Town Council meeting (3/22) is your next opportunity. It is crucial that ALL the Town Councilors hear your voices and understand that there is a real existential problem here, not just a political difference of opinion. Individual voices carry more power than you imagine. You need to let the councilors know that we can get needed new tax revenue without destroying the Town of Amherst for future generations. Everyone should speak, not just spokespersons!!
The meeting is in two parts, the CPA Forum at 6:30 which is for public comment on the proposed CPA budget (minus the appropriation to the Jones Library). The regular meeting starts at 6:45 with a long agenda, with public comment scheduled earlier in the agenda, way before the discussion of the Zoning Moratorium, so be prepared to speak early. (Of course, items can be moved around by the president at the last minute to improve the meeting flow.)
This link will bring you right to the link for the meeting in the calendar https://www.amherstma.gov/Calendar.aspx?EID=22677
I like to get the various zoom links for the agenda and other meeting materials. For that: Go the town webpage Amherstma.gov. Scroll down through the big pictures until you get to Public Meetings and you will see the two descriptions and links for the Town Council Meetings. One link is to the right, but I like to click the word [here] at the end of the brief description of the meeting. That gets you to a page with links for all the materials for the meeting. At the end of the Agenda are directions for public comment.
As many of you have heard, two groups have requested that the Town Council adopt a Zoning Moratorium. One is three councilors Cathy Schoen, Darcy Dumont, and me, Dorothy Pam. The second group is made of Amherst residents who have signed a petition for the Zoning Moratorium. Only ten signers are required, but our list of over 100 is swiftly growing.
Below is the proposed Zoning moratorium.
ARTICLE 16: TEMPORARY MORATORIUM FOR 180 DAYS ON BUILDING PERMITS FOR CONSTRUCTION OF RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS WITH THREE OR MORE DWELLING UNITS
The Town is in the process of updating and amending its zoning bylaws, conducting outreach and analysis and preparing recommendations to the Planning Board and Town Council.
Planning Department staff have proposed engaging a consultant to help develop design guidelines and potential zoning changes that adhere to a plan for future development and include streetscape, sidewalks, set-backs and green-space for downtown areas and village centers. To allow time for this planning process to proceed and be effective, there is an urgent need for a temporary moratorium on building permits for residential construction with three or more units in downtown and adjacent districts to allow time for this planning process to proceed.
The 180 day (6-month) moratorium would provide that:
No new building permits shall be issued for the proposed construction of any residential building including three or more dwelling units in the Business General (BG), Business Limited (BL) or General Residence (RG) zoning districts in the town for a period of 180 days. A 180 day delay will provide time for town staff and a consultant to provide outreach to residents, to assist in drafting design standards and to amend the zoning requirements regarding:
● Streetscape, side-walk widths, and green space for new multi-unit developments
● building heights and setbacks required in the zoning bylaw dimensional table
● inclusionary zoning requirements
● the definition of mixed-use buildings
● municipal parking overlay in the B-G District that allows for no parking spaces for new residential buildings and allows removal of existing parking spaces without contribution to a public parking fund, yet allows tenants to secure town parking permits for town parking spaces, irrespective of the number of residential units
● climate action/resilience criteria for new construction recommended in the town Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan
If the Town is not able to implement amended zoning bylaws addressing all of the areas listed in this section before 180 days, then there shall be a 90-day extension of the temporary moratorium.
Now, here is the memo with further rationale for a zoning moratorium
Temporary Multiple Unit Building Moratorium
From: Darcy Dumont, Cathy Schoen, and Dorothy Pam
RE: Proposed Temporary Building Moratorium on Permits for Construction of Residential Buildings with Three or More Units
The Town of Amherst has been vested with substantial powers, rights and functions to regulate the practice, conduct or use of property for the purposes of maintaining health, economic vitality, safety, sustainability and welfare of Amherst. While recognizing that new growth and development may be essential to being able to afford to maintain and improve public services, buildings, and spaces, new development should be aligned with a vision of the direction of change and what we hope for Amherst in the future. As the Master Plan advised, planning requires that regulatory tools need to be “reviewed and updated to protect and create the kind of physical environment desired by town residents.”1 The Master Plan emphasized design standards and a focus on the vitality of downtown and village centers communities “economic life, cultural vigor, and social activity.”
To provide time for such a review, update and design standards, there is an urgent need for a moratorium on permits for construction of multi-unit residential buildings (3 or more) in the downtown and adjacent zoning districts. The moratorium would apply only to new permits and be temporary.
There are three primary reasons for a moratorium at this time:
- The Town Planning Department, Planning Board, and Town Council are in the midst of an intense process of reviewing existing zoning bylaws and setting priorities for possible revisions. Potential changes include definitions of multi-use buildings and an expanded inclusionary zoning bylaw that would apply to all developments with 10 or more units. Allowing time to implement such changes would enable amended bylaws to be effective and apply to new applications for permits.
- The experience of recent developments that added 227 residential units2 downtown without provisions for parking or wide-walkable sidewalks and displaced small businesses and public parking spaces, signal a need to rethink current parking provisions downtown before we lose additional spaces and fail to address walkability.
- Given concerns raised by recent developments downtown and proposed new developments, the Planning Department concluded in a proposed consultant project that
“it is time to examine what we like about the downtown and what steps we need to take to make it better and more suitable to our future need.” 3 To support action, the Department plans to spend $100,000 for a planning consultant “who will lead public meetings and facilitate discussions about the built environment and make recommendations about zoning changes, including design guidelines and streetscape improvements.”
To use such funds efficiently and to provide time for planning, analysis, and implementation of any new zoning provisions that emerge from the intensified efforts underway, it is urgent that we implement a 6 month (180 days) moratorium on permits for construction of residential buildings with 3 or more units in the General Business (B-G), adjacent Limited Business (B-L) and nearby General Residence (R-G) zoning districts.
The need for a temporary moratorium is especially urgent to allow time to implement recently recommended changes to current for mixed-use buildings and a revised inclusionary zoning bylaw to apply to all new developments with 10 or more units. Both provisions are under consideration but are not yet part of Amherst zoning bylaws. Without rapid action and a temporary moratorium in issuing new permits, Amherst could miss the opportunity to add affordable units to our inventory and ensure that new mixed-use buildings include some retail, offices, or other spaces, and diverse residential units
The temporary moratorium would also provide time to work with the consultant to reconsider the parking over-lay district that released new developments downtown from providing parking without requiring contributions to a public parking fund. At the time it was adopted, the Town may not have envisioned large residential buildings downtown with occupants with cars. The consequent loss of parking spaces and extensive use by residents of the new buildings of permits to park on streets has exacerbated a shortage of spaces for visitors and residents seeking to use restaurants, see a movie, visit the library, attend a meeting, or participate in events.
In addition to mixed-use building definitions, a more robust inclusionary zoning bylaw, and revisiting parking, a temporary moratorium would provide time to ask what kind of community we want to be in the future and what actions we need to take to:
- Address design standards and other gaps in current zoning laws;
- Stimulate or restore the vitality of Amherst’s down-town;
- Encourage multi-family developments that support the need for low-income and workforce housing, walkability, green space and public infra-structure; and
- Address climate change recommendations for new construction
Amherst has the opportunity to build on our cultural, historical, educational, and natural resources to continue to be a community where people want to and able to live, work, retire, study, and visit. A moratorium will provide time to plan wisely and leverage these resources in ways that support low and middle longer-term income residents while welcoming students. University towns have unique challenges that require creative actions to avoid an environment where lower- and middle- income working families are squeezed out and small retail or professional businesses cannot afford to operate.
YET MORE RATIONALE for Proposed Moratorium
The proposed temporary 180-day (6-month) moratorium on new building permits to construct residential buildings with three (3) or more units would apply to the B-G, B-L, and R-G districts. All three have been the focus on potential zoning bylaw changes and proposed new developments. This would not affect developments underway that have already been permitted nor would it apply to permits to build new accessory dwelling units (ADU), single family homes, or duplexes. The proposed 6-month time period would give Amherst time to:
- Implement proposed definitions of mixed-use buildings and an expanded inclusionary zoning bylaw that would apply to all developments with 10 or more units;
- Make efficient use of the proposed consultant toth the Planning Department and communities to develop design standards for streetscapes, sidewalks, set-backs, and other provisions that would apply to down-town and adjacent neighborhoods
- Assess whether to modify the current parking overlay district – to require some parking and/or payment into a fund for parking
- Assess whether to implement new construction guidelines to address climate change and resilience criteria, including energy efficiency and the move away from fossil fuels
- It would also allow the Planning Department time to complete their review and edits of current zoning bylaws for clarity and inconsistencies.
- The moratorium could be extended if necessary once timeline become clearer for assessing, planning and designing changes to existing bylaws.
1 Master Plan p. 2.2
2 This is the sum of Kendrick Place (36), One East Pleasant (133), and Spring Street (58) based on R. Morra tables.
3 Planning Brestrup submission to JCPC document, 3/11/2021 Packet for Zoning