Northampton council to consider residential zone changes
NORTHAMPTON — The City Council is expected to discuss substantial zoning changes to most residential properties in the city at its meeting Thursday night.
The amendments are designed to give most residential property owners more flexibility to add to their units. The changes also aim to have the city’s zoning reflect what already exists in the three main residential zones known as Urban Residential A, B and C. Many homes, especially in zones B and C closer to downtown, are not in compliance with zoning.
Some residents, especially in Ward 3, are expressing concern that the changes could lead to some lots being redeveloped in a large number of residential units, which would increase the density and change the character of their neighborhoods.
Additionally, there’s some unease among residents that the zone change could lead to higher property values — and higher property taxes — for many property owners. That’s because some larger lots could be subdivided into what’s known as secondary lots, which typically carry a higher valuation because of the potential for development. These lots could end up with higher valuations whether or not an owner intends to develop the additional lot, said Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy, who generally supports the changes.
“This is an unintended consequence of the zone change and I want to make sure other councilors are aware of it,” Murphy said.
The meeting begins with public comment at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Puchalski Municipal Building.
Eight years of work
The genesis for the zone changes began some eight years ago as the city prepared its Sustainable Northampton plan.
A subsequent Zoning Revisions Committee moved ideas forward to the Planning Board, which held public hearings last fall to gather ideas for a specific proposal and again this spring after the changes were drafted.
Many residents spoke in favor of the zone changes at the council’s June 20 meeting, saying they will give them more opportunity to use their property, expand the city’s housing stock and lead to an increase in the number of affordable homes in the city.
The changes might also help encourage the preservation of older homes by giving these owners an option to create an additional rental unit, which would help offset renovation expenses.
Property owners in these zones now face restrictions that prevent them from increasing the number of units. For example, homeowners who buy a two-family home but convert the space into single family can never go back to the earlier arrangement, under existing zoning.
Murphy said it may take some time for many residents to feel the changes, but the creation of additional building lots will mean more infill in the long run as property is sold or handed down and new owners begin to realize they have greater flexibility.
In addition to changes within specific areas, the zoning package creates new basic design standards in all three zones in order to maintain a consistent look throughout neighborhoods. These standards set basic rules for attached garages, covered entries, buildings that face the street and distribution of parking.
In an attempt to address Ward 3’s concerns about the potential for large developments, the zone change also includes a late addition proposed by Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels to require a special permit for multi-family or townhouse projects of seven or more units.