Gerry Weiss: What the facts are trying to tell us

Published: 4/7/2021 3:27:49 PM

In the not too distant future, the Amherst Town Council will be voting on whether or not to change some zoning bylaws, specifically regarding mixed-use buildings and inclusionary zoning, a zoning device used by many communities to increase the availability of affordable housing.

Walk down the sidewalk past the Zanna block and notice what you see as you pass One East Pleasant Street, the five-story monolith. At its closest point to the street, it is a mere 8 feet, 5 inches. There is a tiny tree lawn, with no benches and no public space, in shade much of the day and quite sterile.

Contrast that setting with the other side of the street starting at Bruegger’s Bagels. Those buildings are 36 feet from the street. There are patios, gardens and benches. Meanwhile, none of three newest mixed-use buildings downtown contain any affordable units, despite the fact that there is an Amherst bylaw giving developers a tax incentive for every affordable unit they include.

The Amherst Planning Department recently presented the Planning Board with a series of possible amendments designed to rectify both situations. These proposals would require new buildings to have greater setbacks, more aesthetically pleasing designs and contain a minimum of 10% of the units being affordable. This will take some time as the town engages in discussions, tweaks and finally the council vote.

Until those proposals become law, more buildings like One East Pleasant Street can legally be permitted to be built. Don’t these facts scream out: No more permits for this type of building until this zoning process is completed? Would you rather have the future rebuilding of that part of downtown (more large mixed-use buildings are being planned for) look like the Bruegger’s side of the street than the front of 1 East Pleasant? Which side is more inviting for shoppers, a stated goal of everyone associated with downtown development?

New buildings will be here forever; how could it possibly hurt to wait a few months to fully consider the Planning Department’s ideas? Please contact town officials and support a temporary permitting moratorium.

Gerry Weiss

Amherst




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