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Zone change approved for Amherst Community Television

Its plans for a new studio became more definite after Town Meeting members, at the spring’s sixth session Wednesday, agreed to change the zoning of two Main Street parcels from general residence to neighborhood business.

The rezoning cleared the two-thirds threshold needed for a zoning change by a 120-55 vote following more than an hour of discussion.

Landowner Jerry Guidera of Precinct 9 said the purpose of rezoning was to allow greater lot coverage for the nonprofit’s new building.

“We found the willing and we think right partner for a building there,” Guidera said.

The buildings would also be in place of the possibility of residences on each lot that would likely block the view of the historic Henry Hills mansion that sits above the two lots.

James Lescault, executive director of Amherst Media, said a search for a new site has been ongoing since 2010, when Western Massachusetts Electric Co., the landlord of its College Street building, notified Amherst Media it would have to leave.

“I am here to tell you that Amherst Media will be located on the two parcels under discussion,” Lescault said.

Isaac BenEzra of Precinct 8 said a new studio is important to preserve public access and openness in town government. “This is the place because it’s time free speech was on Main Street and not just on Wall Street,” BenEzra said.

David Webber, chairman of the Planning Board, said the rezoning was supported by his board because the location is intended to be a transition district between residences and businesses.

“These parcels clearly fit that description and would be a natural extension of the existing general business district already in place to the east,” Webber said.

The rezoning came over the objections of those who want to ensure the view of the Hills mansion, built in 1863, is preserved.

Louis Greenbaum of Precinct 1 said he is concerned about the 2.8 acres being built on, noting that Town Meeting five years ago voted to preserve the lots as a permanent park.

“Once rezoned, there is no turning back and no guarantee what business would occupy the site now and in the future,” Greenbaum said.

“It is our heritage, it is who we are our as a town, and therefore it is our civic responsibility to preserve it,” Greenbaum said.

Jessica Wilkinson of Precinct 9 said Amherst can’t go back once it’s rezoned. “My biggest concern is the view from Main Street up to the Hills house,” Wilkinson said.

But Baer Tierkel of Precinct 4 said this is the best plan, as it can preserve the grassy view of the Hills mansion by locating the building and parking lot toward Gray Street.

John Edwards of Precinct 9 said this development is preferable to homes.

“All we’re going to see is a handsome building. No one is going to know what’s inside it,” Edwards said.

Whatever is built on the site will be subject to review by the Emily Dickinson Local Historic District Commission and will require a certificate of appropriateness from the commission, said its chairman, Thomas Ehrgood. He added that the determination must turn on what the building will look like and its relationship to its surroundings.

Other business

Town Meeting also endorsed, by a 159-4 standing vote, a resolution calling for legal resident non-citizens to be eligible to vote in local elections.

Victoria Morales of Precinct 6 said this is about equal rights and treatment for those with so-called green cards.

“Voting by non-ctizens is as American as apple pie and is older than our national pastime, baseball,” Morales said.

Town Meeting has endorsed similar measures in previous years, beginning in 1996, but it has never won support at the Statehouse.

In other action, a petition article brought by the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods seeking to implement a rental permitting system was dismissed.

Coalition member Maurianne Adams of Precinct 10 said the rental permitting adopted by Town Meeting Monday was sufficient to address the group’s concerns and residents are ready for public participation and an open process to implement specific details in advance of Jan. 1.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said there is plenty of work left to do.

“You can be sure we want to be just as thoughtful and careful with all the implementation pieces,” O’Keeffe said.

At the next session, May 29 at 7 p.m., Town Meeting will take up the possible purchase of Echo Village Apartments, 30 Gatehouse Road, and placing a conservation restriction on the 154 acres of woodland in the Cushman section of Amherst that would otherwise be used for a student housing project known as The Retreat.

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