Town officials eye changes to parking bylaw in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2021 10:25:02 AM

AMHERST — Developers could soon have more flexibility with residential projects as town officials consider changes to a requirement that two parking spaces be provided for each dwelling unit.

The Planning Department's proposal for rewriting the existing parking bylaw, approved by the Planning Board this week, includes establishing a minimum and maximum parking spaces to unit count ratio, which would safeguard the town from having parking lots or parking areas that are too big or too small, and mandating a parking management plan for all residential uses, from single-family homes to apartment complexes.

Senior Planner Maureen Pollock explained the possible changes, noting that there are problems with the existing parking space requirements since those rely on conventional parking standards that are not specific to the community or even the region, and likely were drawn from the Institute of Transportation Engineers Parking Generation Handbook.

The parking management plan would have to be approved for all residential uses, even those not asking for an alternate ratio from the two spaces to one unit ratio.

“The Planning Department and Inspection Services believe that this is very important to help developers to manage their parking and to enforce it,” Pollock said.

Planning Board member Maria Chao said she appreciates that the revisions will give planners more information about the criteria for allowing these parking ratios to be adjusted, and could encourage development of alternative modes of transportation. 

“I think this is definitely a step in the right direction,” Chao said. “I’ve never liked spending hours debating the two parking spaces per unit for every project.”

Planning Board Chairman Douglas Marshall supported the proposal. “What they’ve proposed is helpful to them and people who are working with this bylaw as they try to develop properties in town,” Marshall said.

But board member Janet McGowan said she wanted more data before eliminating the current two parking spaces per unit, which is working well.

These changes, if adopted by the Town Council, would not have an impact on the municipal parking district in downtown, where mixed-use developments, such as Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant, have been completed without any requirement for parking.

The incorporation of flexible parking standards would allow the town's permit granting authorities and applicants to use different parking space ratios, using factors such as proximity to off-street or on-street parking, as well as considering demographic factors.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra said the changes would also make it easier to approve changes to existing residential properties, such as a single-family home that becomes a rental property and might require more parking spaces.

Pollock said another benefit to the zoning adjustments would be contingency-based measures should parking demand change, such as allowing shadow parking that could become real parking when needed and assessing a fee-in-lieu payment that could help fund centrally located, off-site parking facilities, such as parking garages.

Ira Bryck of Strong Street told planners that developers should face consequences for their actions if a development causes too many vehicles to be on a property.

“We need to deal with the true cost of bringing a car to town,” Bryck said.

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


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