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Northampton to hold public hearing on several zone change proposals, including floodplain land

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
The Connecticut River will retain its National Blueway designation despite the decision by the U.S. Interior Department to discontinue the program last week. The view here is from Mount Tom Road in Northampton where the Oxbow flows into the river.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO The Connecticut River will retain its National Blueway designation despite the decision by the U.S. Interior Department to discontinue the program last week. The view here is from Mount Tom Road in Northampton where the Oxbow flows into the river. Purchase photo reprints »

Also on the docket are amendments that would ban installation of electronic signs; increase height limits by 5 feet in the Central Business District, general industrial and office industrial zones; and rezone three parcels on Easthampton Road to align them with zoning in the Route 10 Business Park.

The Planning Board and Ordinance Committee will review these and several other proposed zone changes at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.

The floodplain amendment calls for eliminating a watershed protection overlay zoning district — a special district that provides an additional layer of protection on top of regular zoning — in favor of a special conservancy district.

Special conservancy districts are designed to preserve floodplains as resource areas for many uses, including flood storage, habitat and fertile farmland. The boundaries of the special conservancy district would mirror a 100-year floodplain mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the 1970s.

The Planning Department mailed notices about the change to more than 1,000 property owners in recent weeks. Planning Director Wayne Feiden said his office has been fielding many calls about the change, but few people are raising major concerns.

That’s because, in most cases, current requirements for how land in floodplains can be used would not change, he said.

Though the council voted 5-3 in favor of the change in January 2010, the measure did not get the six votes it needed to pass.

If approved, about 1,830 acres within the watershed protection area would convert to special conservancy. The Meadows section of the city already is zoned special conservancy and would not be affected by the changes.

Another 454 acres would have restrictions eliminated because the land is not in a FEMA-mapped floodplain. The remaining 175 acres within the floodplain used for industrial or commercial purposes would remain unchanged, though it would be renamed floodplain.

Also under consideration tonight:

∎ A measure to increase height limits by 5 feet in the general industrial, office industrial and Central Business District zones. The change would allow a maximum height of 45 feet in the general industrial and office industrial zones, and 70 feet in the Central Business District.

The latter proposal is meant to encourage development downtown and complement Amtrak’s return of train service, among other reasons. The extra 5 feet can also allow building owners in all three zones to develop larger buildings without increasing their footprints.

∎ A measure that would prohibit construction of billboards and other signs that contain electronic technology. There are no such signs installed in the city now, Feiden said.

∎ An amendment to rezone three parcels on Easthampton Road at the southern end of a business park approved 20 years ago.

The change would convert one parcel that houses a dog day care business from suburban residential to general industrial. Another two vacant parcels would go from business park to general industrial to match zoning across the street where manufacturing, technology and most non-medical offices are allowed.

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