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North Amherst residents petition to roll back zoning change on mixed-use buildings

North Amherst residents are seeking to reverse a zoning change, made by Town Meeting last spring, designed to promote construction of more mixed-use buildings in village centers.

The residents recently submitted a citizen zoning petition for fall Town Meeting, which begins Nov. 4. It seeks to protect historic homes along Montague Road and limit the impact on the natural environment and adjacent aquifers from future mixed-use projects, said Melissa Perot, a Town Meeting representative from Precinct 1.

“This petition article seeks to create a balance between residential and commercial development opportunities in North Amherst village,” Perot said.

Town Meeting adopted the “technical fix” amendment to mixed-use buildings by a 119-to-56 vote June 3. This allows mixed-use projects with up to 10 dwelling units to go through site plan review by the Planning Board, rather than the more cumbersome process of obtaining a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

This zoning change, which cleared the two-thirds threshold for approving a zoning change, allows ground-level residential units in mixed use buildings, so long as they are at the rear and do not interfere with the business streetscape.

Planning Director Jonathan Tucker, in a memo to the Planning Board and other town officials, wrote that the petition seeks to reimpose the special permit requirement for mixed-use buildings.

“This is the central intent of the amendment, to limit the number of dwelling units possible by right in mixed-use buildings in the commercial district, particularly in specific parts of the North Amherst commercial district,” Tucker wrote.

But Tucker added that it does so selectively, primarily impacting projects abutting the residence neighborhood and professional research park zoning districts.

Perot said that mixed-use buildings are useful to improving the North Amherst village center, but she is concerned that the zoning change in place will lead to only one type of building being constructed on more than 20 acres of open land within the district, specifically along Cowls Road.

These would likely not have the right mix of retail uses and services and commercial activities, but will instead lead to the construction of 12 or more “trolley barn-style” buildings.

This is a reference to such a building proposed on Cowls Road by W.D. Cowls president Cinda Jones.

This three-story building, which would have retail on the ground level and offices or apartments on the upper levels, is being reviewed by the Planning Board this week.

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