Northampton City Council approves zoning changes; delays action on whether to continue plowing private ways
NORTHAMPTON — The City Council Thursday indefinitely delayed action on a proposed November ballot question that would have asked voters to OK the use of tax money to plow and maintain the city’s private ways. Instead, the council will let the Board of Public Works finish its yearlong effort to determine which of the roughly four-dozen private streets should become public.
Also Thursday, the council gave final approval to substantial changes in residential zoning designed to give property owners more flexibility to add units to their homes, among other amendments. The measure imposes a nine-month moratorium on approving building permits for projects with seven or more units.
The private way ballot question was tabled based on a recommendation from the City Council-Board of Public Works conference committee. Council Vice President Jesse M. Adams, who chairs the joint committee, said the ballot question is flawed because it would only deal with snow removal and not with other issues such as city utilities in the streets and easements. Additionally, if the measure failed, property owners whose homes abut private streets would be in a “bad position” with no time to line up plowing contracts for this winter, Adams said.
A majority of the council agreed, though Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels argued that the question should be placed on the ballot. Not doing so, he argued, is akin to telling residents their opinion does not matter. He said the council can ask residents whether “they wish the city to stop breaking the law or come in compliance” at the same time that the Board of Public Works continues its street-acceptance process.
The rest of the council disagreed, with President William H. Dwight saying the ballot question as written does not contain enough details for voters to make an informed decision. Others said the issue is too confusing, but they would be willing to take another look at a ballot initiative once they know which streets are public and which are private.
Councilors want to vote as soon as possible on the streets recommended to be made public.
All of the streets have already been through the BPW’s public hearing process and many are being recommended for approval as public ways. The board is scheduled to vote on 17 more streets at its meeting Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the new zoning package was given final approval after months of review and comment from the public. In addition to the moratorium on larger projects, a vast majority of the zoning package won the support of the council. The changes are intended to liberalize zoning for smaller projects in the city’s three residential zones known as Urban Residential A, B and C. In addition to flexibility, the new zoning is intended to encourage development of more housing units and increase the number of affordable, non-subsidized homes.
The measure also creates new basic design standards in all three zones.
The moratorium would expire next July.