Present: Maria Chao, Chair Christine Gray-Mullen, Janet McGowan, Michael Birtwistle, David Levenstein. Absent: Jack Jemsek Staff: Christine Brestrup, Planning Director, Pamela Field-Sadler, Administrative Assistant
1.Request to rescind the release of lots in the Amherst Hills subdivision granted on May 1, 2019, because of a dispute over the condition of the roads.
2. Construction of a solar farm on the capped landfill behind the transfer station north of Belchertown Road
Minutes from the September 18 meeting were approved unanimously.
Roads Dispute in Amherst Hills Subdivision
Most of the 40 residents in attendance were from the 73-parcel Amherst Hills subdivision off Station Road. They requested that the Planning Board rescind the release of the remaining lots for sale in Amherst Hills. . On May 1, 2019, the Planning Board gave Tofino Associates, a New Jersey firm represented locally by Ted Parker, permission to sell an additional 13 lots in the subdivision. Four of the lots have already been sold to Bercume Construction for $140,000 apiece. The Amherst Hills residents contended that they were not notified of this request for releasing the additional 13 lots for sale. In a detailed argument, James Masteralexis of Linden Ridge Road contended that Tofino has not finished the roads through the subdivision, although he has filled potholes and done some maintenance. Now that the unsold lots are available for sale, Parker has told the residents that the roads are now the responsibility of the Amherst Hills Neighborhood Association.
Although it is a general, though unwritten, policy of the Town not to require the final coat of asphalt to be laid until construction is complete, some homes in this subdivision have been occupied for as many as 15 years. The roads are almost impassable and would require major construction to bring them up to the Town standards, according to several of the neighbors, who pointed out that the Town Engineer has provided them with a long list of changes that must be made in the subdivision immediately, at an estimated cost of $16,000, if the Town is to plow its roads this winter. In previous years, the Town provided this service as a courtesy but plowing last year resulted in extensive damage to a town plow, so the Town now requires bringing the roads up to standard before it will resume plowing. In releasing the lots for sale, the Planning Board certified that the work specified in an August 2, 2017 covenant between Tofino Associates, Greenfield Bank, LLC, and the Town of Amherst was completed, even though it was not. Now that Tofino is permitted to sell all the lots, there is no motivation for them to complete the roads.
Masteralexis said that when anyone buys one of the Amherst Hills lots, they become members of the Amherst Hills Neighborhood Association. But the Association has never met nor collected dues. Although neighbors would be willing to do some maintenance, they feel that road construction is the responsibility of the developer. Eight of the residents present spoke to the deplorable condition of the roads and the danger to drivers, buses, and pedestrians.
Shortly before the meeting, the Planning Board received an email from Town Counsel Joel Bard stating that the Planning Board could rescind their release of the lots or could deny building permits on any of the remaining nine lots not yet sold, and should consider any decision carefully.
Although Planning Board members were clearly sympathetic to the requests of the Amherst Hills residents, they were reluctant to act hastily. They decided to do a site visit to the subdivision and to carefully consider the available options. They called a special meeting on October 30 to decide on the matter.
Solar Farm at 740 Belchertown Road
A request for a special permit to build a solar farm on the capped landfill behind the transfer station at 740 Belchertown Road was presented by Daniel Band of the solar company and Steve Voss of CRC Engineering. The solar farm will produce enough electricity to power 600 homes and give the town a discount on energy costs. The town has leased the land to Town of Amherst Solar, LLC (a private company) for 30 years. The company will make a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) of about $100,000/year for the first 20 years and about $70,000/year thereafter. The company will also make a substantial contribution to the Kestrel Land Trust for protection of endangered species, such as the grasshopper sparrow, at the older capped landfill across Belchertown Road. No excavation will be required to install the panels.
There were questions about fencing and its impact on wildlife. Resident Rebecca Hull of Stony Hill Road expressed concerns about the safety of the equipment and the quality of the electricity produced. These questions were answered by the representatives and were addressed in the materials they had supplied.
The request for a special permit was unanimously approved for referral to the Zoning Board of Appeals which will finalize the permit.
Amherst College Athletic Fields
The request by Amherst College to renovate the athletic field at 212 Northampton Road (R-N zoning district) by installing synthetic turf and upgrading lighting and pathways was continued until the November 6 meeting.
70 University Drive
Barry Roberts, developer, and Tom Reidy, attorney at Bacon Wilson, requested approval of a change in the location of mini-splits at the mixed-use buildings at 70 University Drive. In the plans, these units were on the roof, but there was not enough space on the roof and first-floor units were installed in exterior walls instead, without seeking permission from the Town. This alteration in the plans was not discovered until the Town’s final inspection of the development for an occupancy permit.
Photographs were presented to show the unobtrusive placement of the units. Michael Birtwistle expressed displeasure that the modification was caught after-the-fact. The Planning Board (PB) approved of the change.
Bank of America Lighting at 360 College Street
Discussion resumed regarding the placement of additional lighting at the Bank of America (BOA) ATM on 360 College Street. At Planning Board meetings on July 24 and September 18, the Board had expressed opposition to the placement and design of the two light poles with large yellow bases installed in the narrow strip-mall parking lot. The extra lighting is required by BOA security standards. Neil Sander, a lighting expert for the bank, said that the new plan is to install (apparently smaller) 12-inch poles in the lot, possibly protected by 6-inch bollards, which are short, sturdy posts. He showed no pictures of the light poles nor of their placement in relation to the parking lot or sidewalk. The board declined to approve the plan without this information. The matter will be discussed again on November 6.
The Zoning Subcommittee, which met immediately before the Planning Board meeting, discussed the proposed housing policy presented to the Board on October 2 by Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Chair John Hornik. It was decided that Board member Janet McGowan will draft a revision of the Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw and Board member Maria Chao will look at permitting smaller dwellings and infill in certain areas.
Of note: Pari Riahi resigned from the Planning Board, so there is now a vacancy. It is the Town Council’s responsibility to appoint members of the Planning Board, but the Council is revising its application and appointment policies, so it is unclear when the vacancy will be filled.
The meeting adjourned at 10:15 p.m. Video of the meeting has not yet been posted online (as of this writing), but will eventually be available on Amherst Media and Youtube.