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Amherst residents seeking tighter controls on student rentals

Four citizen petition articles designed to curb unruly behavior in Amherst neighborhoods and restrict conversion of single-family homes to multi-family dwellings are headed to fall Town Meeting.

Members of a new group called the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods turned in the petitions, signed by 150 residents, at Town Hall last week.

Those who crafted the amendments to town bylaws say they could serve as a means of helping the town deal with overcrowded rental units, illegal sale of alcohol and disturbances caused by those under the influence of alcohol.

John Fox of Fearing Street, a member of the coalition, said in a statement that these types of problems are spreading to all residential neighborhoods, not just those near the University of Massachusetts.

“We’ve drafted these petitions because we believe it is crucial that the fall Town Meeting address them and not wait until next spring,” Fox said.

The group seeks to stabilize and restore family-oriented neighborhoods for a mix of residents. It hopes to win support from the Zoning Subcommittee and Planning Board in advance of November’s Town Meeting sessions.

The petitions include:

∎ adjusting the nuisance house bylaw so that the town manager’s office is required to notify property owners and management companies when tenants are cited or arrested by police under this bylaw;

∎ adding language to the nuisance house bylaw to include provisions for fining owners and management companies for the costs of police response and ambulance service after a third violation;

∎ mandating that single-family homes converted to multi-family dwellings have an owner occupant to maintain order and serve as a contact for neighborhood complaints;

∎ requiring owners subdividing their properties to get a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in which the board members can set conditions that would maintain the historic and residential character of neighborhoods and discourage demolition of existing dwellings and structures.

Town Manager John Musante said it is too early to evaluate the petitions, but notes that each will be given consideration by the Planning Department and Planning Board.

Neighbors explain

Steven Bloom of Lincoln Avenue said recent incidents offer good reasons to support the petitions. Bottles and cans were thrown at police officers and all five town ambulances were tied up transporting intoxicated students when a week-old baby needed medical attention.

“There have been public appeals by both the police and fire chief for help. We are trying to give it to them,” Bloom said.

David Sloviter, a spokesman for the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, said in a statement that the petitions will serve to diminish the pressure of off-campus housing needs.

“Absentee landlords are exploiting the current lack of on-campus student housing and buying vulnerable properties wherever they find a toehold,” Sloviter said.

Denise Barberet of North Whitney Street said it is ironic that the town’s master plan promotes the concept of “in-fill” development.

“This is getting the in-fill the master plan calls for, but not the type of in-fill and density people wanted,” Barberet said. “No one expects students to spend all their time studying,” she added. “But there is no reason that police and paramedics should expend so much of their time and taxpayer money on bad behavior that seems to grow worse each year.”

I don't think it can be legal to require a homeowner to live in a house if it's converted to a two-family. Nobody could ever buy a house and convert it if they already had a house? Nobody could move out of their conversion if their job got transferred?

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