Amherst councilors withdraw zone changes to address ‘missing middle’ housing


Staff Writer

Published: 07-27-2023 2:06 PM

AMHERST — Two councilors seeking a package of zoning changes aimed at making it easier for duplexes, triplexes and converted dwellings to be developed in Amherst, addressing what proponents referred to as housing options for the “missing middle” between single-family homes and apartments, this week requested the plans be withdrawn.

District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis and At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, who crafted and sponsored the comprehensive proposal that was subject to Planning Board and Planning Department review for the past several months, are formally requesting the withdrawal in a letter to their colleagues sent Tuesday.

The withdrawal comes after the Planning Board in June voted not to recommend the zoning amendments, even though members appreciated many of the concepts embedded in the proposal.

“We make this request to withdraw our proposed revisions to the zoning bylaw relating to missing middle housing for a variety of reasons,” the councilors wrote. “Among these reasons is our town attorney’s hesitancy to support splitting the proposal into discrete parts for the purposes of voting at the council. As sponsors, we always believed our proposal was a sum of many parts, dividable into sections for the purposes of voting.”

Even without support from planners, the Town Council could have voted on the proposal, adopting or rejecting it.

“However, between discussion at the Planning Board and Community Resources Committee and the KP Law opinion, we now recognize that we should have begun this process with these discrete parts separated,” the councilors wrote. “Although we believe we could separate them now, we also believe that beginning anew with separate proposals would make for clearer review, debate, discussion, and ultimately, decision-making.”

The need for having more housing options is even more evident to Hanneke and De Angelis after getting data from Valley Community Development about its lottery for the East Gables development at 132 Northampton Road, in which 501 individuals applied to live in 26 of the 28, 240-square-foot apartments in that building. Of those applicants, 357 are earning at or below 30% of the area median income.

“Amherst’s residents, elected officials, and town staff have been saying the need is real for a long time and the situation at 132 Northampton Road proves it. Yet, from our perspective, there is a lot of talk among councilors and Planning Board members, but very little action,” De Angelis and Hannke wrote. “Our proposal was one part of the ‘action’ needed to address the ‘talk,’ as we believe that addressing the housing crisis requires tackling the problem on multiple fronts simultaneously, including taking a serious look at missing middle housing.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

The councilors praised town staff for quickly moving on affordable housing developments, such as East Gables, the Ball Lane homeownership duplexes and the WayFinders development of the East Street School and Belchertown Road, properties, but observed there is a lack of an ongoing, deliberate plan to meet the master plan for providing housing for all income levels.

De Angelis and Hanneke wrote that their withdrawal request doesn’t mean abandoning a commitment to addressing the housing crisis or implying that waiting years to do so is acceptable.

“We will be back with proposals to address Amherst’s affordable, attainable, and missing middle housing crisis, but will do so in a way that demonstrates we have listened these last 7 months.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at]]>