Amherst councilors eye moratorium on multi-unit residential projects

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2021 1:58:04 PM

AMHERST – A 180-day moratorium on issuing building permits for projects with three or more residential units is being proposed by members of the Amherst Town Council.

With a developer this month submitting plans to build a five-story, mixed-use project at the northern end of downtown Amherst, and a second developer announcing the possibility of a similar project next to the Boltwood parking garage, District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont, District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen and District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam are suggesting a moratorium that will be discussed by the council at Monday’s meeting.

“While recognizing that new growth and development may be essential to being able to afford to maintain and improve public services, buildings, and spaces, new development should be aligned with a vision of the direction of change and what we hope for Amherst in the future,” they wrote in a letter to their fellow councilors.

Under the proposal, the moratorium would apply to projects in the general business zoning district, the limited business zoning district and the general residence zoning district.

The councilors stated that the moratorium will give the town time to address several issues, including design standards for these buildings, whether parking should be provided for tenants and whether an inclusionary bylaw should be adopted that would require more affordable apartments be provided.

Such a moratorium, though, might be at odds with the council’s 10-3 vote in January in favor of zoning priorities that would motivate developers to pursue housing projects downtown and in village centers, encouraging more housing options for people from all economic backgrounds. Among the zoning priorities are allowing apartments by site plan review in more zoning districts, removing a cap on the number of units in an apartment building, and easing the rules for siting duplexes and triplexes.

Revisions of the town’s zoning bylaws, including encouraging more so-called in-fill development consistent with the master plan, are already underway.

Still, the councilors in favor of the proposed moratorium say that it would be good policy.

“Amherst has the opportunity to build on our cultural, historical, educational, and natural resources to continue to be a community where people want to and able to live, work, retire, study, and visit,” the councilors wrote in their letter. “A moratorium will provide time to plan wisely and leverage these resources in ways that support low and middle longer-term income residents while welcoming students.”

The possibility of a moratorium comes after a letter encouraging such action was sent to the Planning Department, Town Council and Town Manager Paul Bockelman by Ira Bryck of Strong Street.

“Now that there are plans for even more 5 story dormitories to loom over Amherst’s small downtown, will our town government please pause to consider what our community says they want and don't want?” Bryck wrote.

Elizabeth Vierling of Cottage Street wrote in an email that the moratorium is needed following the proposed project by Archipelago Investments, which would include 134 beds but just 16 parking spaces on the East Pleasant Street site that previously housed Cousins Market and The Pub restaurant.

“Unfortunately, at this point it seems that without blocking projects now, AND redoing the BG (general business) zoning bylaws, we are going to be stuck with this kind of development,” Vierling wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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