REPORT PLANNING BOARD MEETING (11/20/19)

PRESENT: Christine Gray-Mullen (Chair), Jack Jemsek (Vice Chair), Michael Birtwistle, Maria Chao, David Levenstein, Janet McGowan. STAFF: Christine Brestrup, Planning Director, Pamela Field-Sadler, Administrative Assistant

The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. Minutes from October 2 and October 30 were approved unanimously.

Highlights:

  • The board received updated information on a proposed marijuana product manufacturing facility on Belchertown Road and continued its deliberations until its next meeting.
  • Amherst Hills subdivision residents requested that the Board intervene in their dispute with developer Tofino Associates over the developer’s alleged failure to complete roads in the subdivision.
  • The Board received several reports including on the receipt of $650,000 in funding to construct a playground at Kendrick Park. 

Public Comment
Maura Keene brought up the Environment and Climate Action Committee’s recommendations, which were passed unanimously by the Town Council on November 18. These state that Amherst will reduce greenhouse gas production by 50 per cent below 2016 levels by 2030, with a benchmark of 25 per cent reduction by 2025. By 2050, the town should be carbon neutral. Though there are many factors that impact reaching these goals, she suggested the Planning Board keep these aims in mind when evaluating proposed projects.

Riverside Organics
Jonathan Gurfein of Riverside Organics at 555 Belchertown Road returned to address some concerns about his planned marijuana product manufacturing and micro business. He reduced the two compost piles to one at the back of the property and added a second exit from the greenhouse. He obtained approval from the Fire Department and Conservation Commission and is waiting for information from the Town Engineer regarding stormwater run off. Erin Jacques, Town Wetlands Administrator, wanted the felled trees to remain on the land to protect the adjacent wetlands. After construction, boulders will be placed between the property and the wetlands. 

Guerfein had provided a USB drive containing his management plan and operating procedures to Brestrup earlier, but these had not yet been distributed to the Planning Board members. His project cannot be approved until he has applied to the Cannabis Commission for a growing permit. He is working on that application now. Discussion was continued until December 4 at 7:15 p.m.

Amherst Hills Subdivision
The residents of Amherst Hills subdivision returned to discuss the failure of the developer, Tofino and Associates, to finish their roads. At its last meeting, the Planning Board asked the building commissioner not to approve building permits or sewer hook-ups for nine recently released lots until the roads are finished. 

Jason Skeels, Town Engineer, estimated that completing the work would cost about $930,000, based on state Department of Transportation figures, though he noted that the developer could probably do it for less with local companies. The security for the completion held with Greenfield Bank is only $288,000. Tofino has since sued the residents and is seeking nonbinding arbitration. No representative of Tofino was present at the meeting.

The room was crowded with about forty Amherst Hills residents. Several residents spoke. Some, including attorney Tom Reidy of Bacon,Wilson LLC and resident James Masteralexis urged the town to require Tofino to sign another security covenant. The Planning Board was unsure if they could require this, but will check with the Town Attorney. Reidy thought the town could require an additional security agreement because the agreement on the original document was not met by the June 30, 2019 deadline.

Resident Brian Scully stated that the residents are worried the developer will not fulfill the obligation to finish the road that was agreed upon when the lots were sold. Residents would have nothing to gain by arbitration since they already have an agreement that the roads will be finished. John Kennedy stated that the same situation exists with the roads in another Tofino subdivision on Kestrel and Hop Brook Roads. Joan Haupling expressed the difficulty she is having in trying to sell her house with this ongoing dispute.

In the end, the Planning Board decided to leave in place,  the building permit and sewer moratorium that were initiated at the last Planning Board meeting . The matter will be discussed again at 7:05 on December 18 after the Board receives more information from the town attorney. 

Zoning Subcommittee
The zoning subcommittee met just before the main meeting. Chao reported that the committee is evaluating loosening zoning restrictions that inhibit establishment of smaller dwellings, duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes, and use of smaller lots. This and an evaluation of inclusionary zoning will hopefully lead to more affordable housing for low- and middle-income residents. 

Reports
Brestrup pointed out that the appeal period for the FEMA flood maps goes from November 22, 2019 to February 20, 2020. The appeals process is quite involved, but she expects at least one resident to file an appeal.

Michael Birtwistle, liaison to the Community Preservation Act Committee, reported that the town received a $400,000 grant to construct a playground at Kendrick Park. CPAC authorized another $250,000. The design should be completed by June 2020 and the playground completed in June 2021.

Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Chair John Hornik and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek will  address the Planning Board on December 18 to discuss the revision of the 2010 Master Plan and a rewrite of the zoning bylaw which they hope will both be completed within the next two years.  

The third and final presentation by the 40R Smart Growth consultants will be on December 19, place and time to be announced. Karen Sonnenberg and David Eisen will discuss their recommendations for an overlay district in the downtown. 

Copies of Governor Baker’s bill H3507 to promote choice in housing were distributed at the last Planning Board meeting. Levenstein asked if the Board should bring it to the attention of the Town Council in case it becomes law. Others felt that this would be premature because the bill is still under study. Gray Mullen said she would speak to State Representative Mindy Domb to ascertain the status of the bill (it is currently with the Joint Committee on Housing). It will be on the agenda for the December 18 meeting.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:15 p.m.

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