Work underway to increase Amherst’s housing stock

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/23/2021 12:12:29 PM

AMHERST — Initial proposals to make several changes to town zoning, with a focus on ways to add housing for people of all income levels, are expected to be brought forward for review in the coming weeks.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup and Building Commissioner Rob Morra informed the Town Council on Monday that the first phase of draft zoning adjustments, prioritized by the Town Council earlier this year to promote what is known as infill development, should be ready for the Community Resources Committee’s March 9 meeting.

That will begin a process of hearings and gathering input from the community, setting the stage for the Town Council to vote on the zoning changes, likely in June.

Morra said staff is examining ways to change zoning to increase housing in the limited business zoning district, areas of downtown where restrictions are placed on development to create a buffer between residential areas and the general business zone.

The limited business areas of focus, Morra said, are north of Triangle Street; between East Pleasant Street and the high school that features primarily strip mall-style development; and west of North Pleasant Street, between McClellan Street and Cowles Lane.

A preferred option, Morra said, would be to have a new overlay district, set 100 feet back from the front property line and adding design standards so any projects would be compatible with existing structures.

District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont asked whether there would be interest from people to live in the limited business zone.

Due to the zone’s proximity to services, transportation and the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College campuses, “it’s a very desirable area to live in,” Brestrup said.

Another discussion has been about eliminating use of “footnote M” in the zoning bylaw dimensional tables for projects in the general residence zones. By doing this, developers would be allowed to construct more housing units and do more “infill,” as the footnote places a cap on the number of units based on lot size. “We have been studying this in great detail,” Morra said.

Other zoning work taking place is on allowing supplemental dwelling units to be larger, increasing the maximum size from 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet; better defining apartment buildings; and giving more flexibility to developers, such as no longer mandating that these buildings feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom homes.

Brestrup said planners are also considering dividing apartments between class 1 buildings, with 24 and fewer units, and class 2 buildings, those with 25 and more units.

As with apartment buildings, Morra said staff want to define mixed-use buildings and get a better grasp on aspects of these projects. This includes details such as whether parking on the ground level, or only business uses, can be counted toward the nonresidential space, and improving so-called inclusionary zoning, where affordable units would have to be incorporated into developments with 10 or more units.

Affordability, in this case, would be defined as any unit that can accommodate people who earn around 80% of the area’s median income, Brestrup said. These units can then be counted toward the state’s subsidized housing inventory that requires communities keep 10% of their housing stock affordable.

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


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