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Northampton’s proposed zoning shift could harm neighborhood character

To the editor:

I hope there will be a great deal more citywide discussion of the proposed changes to Northampton residential zoning — changes that will reduce requirements for lot sizes, frontage and open space; allow more living units per parcel; and potentially profoundly alter the character of neighborhoods throughout the city.

Carolyn Misch’s recent presentation at the JFK Middle School focused on the desire to permit homeowners greater flexibility in expanding and renting parts of their homes. However, these zoning changes seem broader than necessary to achieve that goal, and the presentation felt misleading.

Residents who attended the meeting suggested that homeowners who wish to create an apartment within their homes could simply seek permission on a case-by-case basis — a process that might better safeguard neighborhood character.

They also raised questions about lowering property values, the loss of trees and open areas that would follow from the required parking spaces, increased traffic from increased population density and the worry that developers might find it profitable to buy houses and carve them up into apartments for rental (property is required to be owner-occupied in only one zone). It was asked why affordable housing could not be built in some of the existing empty areas near downtown (wouldn’t we rather see attractive, landscaped apartments on King Street than derelict car dealerships? And wouldn’t the Roundhouse lot be an ideal site?). Shouldn’t the value of existing neighborhoods be preserved rather than undermined?

The goal of creating more affordable housing is an important one, but is this really the best way to do it?

Surprisingly, no one seemed to have been assigned the task of taking notes at this meeting, so it’s hard to know how absent members of the Planning Board will learn about our concerns.

Sarah Metcalf


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