REPORT: ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS. PUBLIC MEETING AND HEARING ON NORTH AMHERST REQUESTS (7/25/19)

Entrance to The Mill District in North Amherst. Photo: Art Keene

Present: Mark Parent (Chair), Joan O’Meara, Steven Judge, Tom Simpson, and Matthew Wilk.

The agenda for this meeting had two sections: public meeting and public hearing. A public meeting was called to address two requests to allow “insubstantial changes” to conditions on special permits already issued while a public hearing was required for more substantial changes.  The meeting and the hearing concerned projects in North Amherst.

The owners of North Square at the Mill Site requested a change in the wording of Condition #59 to allow irrigation of the landscaping at the development from the municipal water supply rather than the use of private well water for landscape irrigation. The developer drilled three times to reach water on-site with no success. The request for the modification was approved unanimously.

At the same site, Special Permit Condition #88 requires that the petitioner come back to the ZBA at a public meeting for site plan approval (with appropriate conditions) and approval of the management plan whenever a commercial space is leased. The request was to allow commercial use of the space labeled the Mill District General Store and Art Gallery & Café. There was considerable discussion about commercial use of the sidewalks for four benches and metal table with eight chairs impinging on the area where people walk and also compromising safe use of baby carriages, wheel chairs, and the like. The design elements of the custom-made benches and tables follow the factory theme of gears and other machinery parts.

Also, the one bathroom in the General Store will have a one-way-view glass door. The floor plans show this unisex bathroom wall on the north store-front façade requiring continuity of the exterior appearance of the architectural window design.

Other items requested were four blade signs (editor’s note: a blade sign is a type of projecting sign mounted on a building facade or storefront pole or attached to a surface perpendicular to the normal flow of traffic), a water fountain with integrated dog watering dish, a coin-operated mechanical horse, and “…exterior lighting to evenly distribute lighting so as not to shine directly on the one-way mirror” Also, an ice machine and a commercial sign for businesses in the building were shown.

The vote was called while a member of the audience wished to ask a question. The Chair’s response was “we don’t allow public comment at public meetings—only at public hearings.” Although public comments at all public meetings are required by The Charter (Section 9.12), there was no such item on the agenda. Staff has been informed of this section of the Charter and the item, “public comment”, appears last on the agenda for the next meeting. The request to modify this special permit was approved unanimously.

The public hearing was a request for the modification of approved plans for Pulpit Hill Solar to allow “. . . adjustments to the solar panel layout, installation of additional equipment pads, extension of the gravel road with a gate to Town property and designate minimum frontage requirements located off Montague Road.” There was considerable discussion clarifying the new site plan, particularly fire safety of the battery cabinets and the necessary special training for the Amherst Fire Department which is unfamiliar with this equipment.

An abutter, John Fabel, was recognized to speak. He told of his use of the many trails, including the Robert Frost Trail, on public lands in the area which are now inaccessible due to the placement of boulders, no trespassing signs, fences, and vegetation blocking passage. He noted that he, along with his neighbors, had been using these trails for fifty years and was dismayed by the great inconvenience resulting from these barriers to what had been publicly-used trails. A new condition was added to the permit to re-open the trails for public use. The alterations requested were approved unanimously.

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