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John Dunne: Zoning change will destroy rural edge of Northampton

To the editor:

Coming along the dike last spring heading toward Venturer’s Field Road, I saw first the huge view of Mount Holyoke that jumps out from that angle. Then to the right I saw a woman painting. She was looking and painting a picture of what she saw to the right down the hill from the dike. A cultivated green field, three small streets coming together, a magnolia tree in blossom and a street scape of humble, simple beauty, houses built early in the 20th century for farmers and workers, houses lined up together with echoing roof lines, a picture of a street quintessentially American.

Henry Street is not Elm Street. Most of the houses on Henry are modest, sturdy survivors of 100 years of families living in them. Many bear the signs of the flood of ’36, rusted nail holes on the first floor floorboards. It’s a street exceptional in its character.

But that character is threatened. The new proposed zoning would allow a developer to take any of the deep but narrow lots on Henry Street and erect a seven- or eight-unit multi-family development. The zoning would allow another seventy or eighty units of housing on this sleepy little street.

This street and the surrounding neighborhood have been fighting for survival against city and state planners for a long time. The traffic on Route 91 comes closer to this neighborhood than to any residential neighborhood in Massachusetts. The sewage treatment plant around the corner has never worked right. But people have stayed despite government “improvements,” building a community where people know and help one another.

If you own one of those narrow lots, once the zoning is changed, the value will change dramatically. People on fixed incomes will see a huge spike in their property taxes and they won’t be able to afford Not to sell to a developer. This is what happens where this kind of “infill” development is allowed. It’s a bad idea, a scattershot approach to planning that completely denies the value of a unique community and the City Council should not approve it.

John Dunne


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