Amherst planners vote down building moratorium

  • One East Pleasant, right, and Kendrick Place, background left, are two mixed-use buildings by Amherst developer Archipelago Investments LLC. GAZETTE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 26 Spring Street in Amherst. Construction on the mixed-used building with 58 apartments was halted last year for the pandemic but Amherst developer Archipelago Investments LLC anticipates resuming work this year. The project, to be known as 26 Spring Street, is just west of the intersection with Churchill Street. Photographed on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 26 Spring Street in Amherst. Construction on the mixed-used building with 58 apartments was halted last year for the pandemic but Amherst developer Archipelago Investments LLC anticipates resuming work this year. The project, to be known as 26 Spring Street, is just west of the intersection with Churchill Street. Photographed on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 26 Spring Street in Amherst. Construction on the mixed-used building with 58 apartments was halted last year for the pandemic but Amherst developer Archipelago Investments LLC anticipates resuming work this year. The project, to be known as 26 Spring Street, is just west of the intersection with Churchill Street. Photographed on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • 26 Spring Street in Amherst. Construction on the mixed-used building with 58 apartments was halted last year for the pandemic but Amherst developer Archipelago Investments LLC anticipates resuming work this year. The project, to be known as 26 Spring Street, is just west of the intersection with Churchill Street. Photographed on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2021 8:00:18 PM

AMHERST — Muncipal planners are advising the Town Council against a six-month pause on issuing permits for multi-unit residential buildings in and near downtown, worrying such a moratorium would harm the economy and be insufficient to revise rules for such development.

“It’s basically a moratorium on the downtown recovery of business and of people working, and it just didn’t make any sense to me, honestly,” Planning Board member Maria Chao said.

“I feel like this is an unnecessary motion,” added board member Douglas Marshall.

At a nearly four-hour joint meeting with the Community Resources Committee this week, planners voted 6-0, with board member Janet McGowan absent, to advise the Town Council to vote down the moratorium petition brought by three councilors and signed by close to 900 residents.

Advocates of the moratorium say that delaying new projects, such as the proposed 11 East Pleasant mixed-use building, would give the Planning Department time to make a series of zoning changes related to streetscapes, sidewalk widths, and green space for these projects, address building heights and setbacks required in the zoning bylaw, amend inclusionary zoning requirements and mandate parking for future projects.

But Planning Board Chairman Jack Jemsek said six months wouldn’t be enough time to resolve the squeeze on downtown parking caused by projects like Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant, and he is not compelled by other arguments used against these buildings, such as that they are casting large shadows, removing open space and causing narrow sidewalks.

Planning Board member Johanna Neumann said in addition to not having enough time to revise zoning bylaws, the moratorium would leave condemned buildings and cracked parking lots and other eyesores intact “rather than creating momentum.”

Inclusionary bylaw changes

At the same hearing, the Planning Board voted 6-0 to recommend changes to the inclusionary zoning bylaw, proposed by town planning staff, so that almost all projects with at least 10 new residences, whether townhouses, apartments, mixed-use or cluster subdivisions, will require some affordable housing.

The councilors who spoke in support of the moratorium included Cathy Schoen of Precinct 1, who said people are bothered by the changes downtown, where more than 200 units of new housing have been built in five-story buildings in recent years, and 58 more apartments are proposed in the 11 East Pleasant project.

“This is a time out of the crisis of a pandemic that we have an opportunity to make a real difference,” Schoen said.

“When people see large looming residential units downtown, with shadows, with lack of walkable sidewalks or any public space to greet and convene or just sit outside the building, and we’re seeing small businesses being displaced, well-known businesses,” Schoen said.

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said apartments should be available for a diverse population in age, race, ethnicity, and income, and the new buildings are causing the loss of performing spaces, teahouses and book shops.

“We don’t want to have everything that looks like Amherst to disappear and to find that we have walked into this canyon of dorms,” Pam said.

Downtown shouldn’t just be a place for a slice of pizza or an alcoholic beverage, she said. “Our town is changing in ways we don’t really like,” Pam said.

Ira Bryck of Strong Street, commenting after the meeting, said the Planning Board claims six months as not enough time for new zoning, yet instead wants no months to plan, even as proposals for what he sees as large, problematic projects are being submitted steadily. “In a town that prizes learning and openness in government, this result is disappointing,” Bryck said.

During feedback on the moratorium, a mix of views were offered.

Pam Rooney of Cottage Street said she supports denser housing construction, but also wants the town to control the appearance in a better way.

“I want some design controls in place to ensure what is built has wide, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, adequate parking for the business visitors and also that creates affordable dwelling units,” Rooney said.

Sandy Muspratt of North Prospect Street said many people are dismayed with the projects already built.

“I find it hard to understand the resistance to a moratorium, a pause,” Muspratt said.

District 4 Councilor Stephen Schreiber, though, said Amherst has done a great job of getting builders to build on what had been vacant lots, including the Kendrick Place and Boltwood Place projects, thus bringing many new residents to downtown.

The CRC will have its own recommendation on the moratorium at its May 25 meeting, while the Town Council will likely vote on the measure sometime in June.

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


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