REPORT: PLANNING BOARD MEETING (5/20/20)
The meeting was conducted via Zoom webcast and also broadcast on Amherst Media Channel 17. A recording of the meeting can be viewed here.
Participating: Planning Board Members Michael Birtwistle, Maria Chao, Christine Gray-Mullen (Chair), Jack Jemesek (Vice Chair), David Levenstein, Douglas Marshall, Janet McGowan
Staff: Christine Brestrup (Town Planner), Nate Malloy (Assistant Planner), and Pamela Field Sadler (Administrative Assistant)
The entire packet for the meeting may be viewed here.
- The Board conducted a Site Plan Review and granted Russ Wilson a permit to alter the footprint of his house in the Apple Brook subdivision.
- The Board reviewed design changes for Kendrick Park, approved the new design unanimously and referred the plan to the Town Council for final approval.
- The Board discussed Town Planner Christine Brestrup’s update/revision of Chapter 3 of the Master Plan.
- The Board considered a proposal for a temporary bylaw change to give the Building Commissioner authority for 180 days to approve changes for businesses in matters of parking, lighting, outdoor seating, live entertainment. The measure is aimed at expediting changes that will help businesses reopen following the pandemic closures. The proposal will be further considered at a public hearing on June 10.
The meeting began with a discussion of the minutes from the March 4 Planning Board meeting. Janet McGowan submitted suggestions to change the minutes so as to include details about the March 4 discussion about what process to use for updating the zoning bylaw.
Chair Christine Gray-Mullen disagreed, saying she does not think that all of McGowan’s suggestions are accurate. David Levenstein said that they read more like a transcript than like minutes.
It was decided to delay approval of the March 4 minutes until the next meeting, so that all Board members can further review them and offer input. Thus, the March 4 minutes are not yet available in the public record (see here for an archive of Planning Board minutes).
Site Plan Review- Apple Brook Subdivision
A Site Plan Review was conducted to permit Russ Wilson to add a three-season room to his house in the Apple Brook cluster subdivision. When the subdivision was created, a stipulation was that any alteration to the footprint of a house would require a Site Plan Review. Five Planning Board members were present at the site visit. Birtwistle gave a favorable report. The architect’s renderings of the project were reviewed with very little comment. The proposal passed unanimously.
Malloy presented the newest plans for the playground at Kendrick Park (see packet).
Taking into account feedback from the Design Review Board, Planning Board, and the public, the new plans have an accessible path around the site to the north of the play area. There is a stone wall around the perimeter that can be used for sitting as well as a barrier, instead of a fence. The seating area next to the play area could not be expanded due to possible damage to a nearby large maple tree, but picnic tables and additional benches were placed on the eastern border. A natural area was added in the southeast with wood chips and logs for climbing and sitting. There will be a differentiation in color of the rubberized surface under the play structures to mark a perimeter path for walking. A wooden sign with granite posts will acknowledge funding from the PARC grant and Community Preservation Act Committee, with rules for use and hours on the other side.
McGowan asked about a management plan for the playground. Malloy said that plantings selected were native and low maintenance. It was anticipated that after the increased watering during the first year, little maintenance would be required. The Department of Public Works opens and inspects each park daily and mows grass weekly. Only the east-west paved walkway would be maintained in winter.
Maria Chao said she was especially pleased with the process of developing this plan. The committee incorporated feedback from multiple sources at multiple times to come out with a much improved plan. Malloy especially thanked Paul Jaffe of the Department of Public Works (DPW), Tree Warden Alan Snow, and Barb Bills of Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (LSSE) for being instrumental in the final design. The plan passed unanimously and will be referred to the Town Council for final approval
Master Plan Update
Brestrup began to present the first draft of her suggested update to Chapter 3 of the 2010 Master Plan, which deals with land use. Her additions are marked in red in the Master Plan section of the packet.
So far, only Birtwistle has submitted detailed comments on her updates. He suggested more emphasis on future plans than on what has been accomplished in the last 10 years. However, Gray-Mullen and Doug Marshall said it is important to keep the historical perspective, even if only by providing hyperlinks to previous changes. Both McGowan and Birtwistle stated that a plan for implementation is very important and should be emphasized, pointing out that it was barely mentioned in the 2010 Master Plan, except as an item in the appendix, and was not followed.
It was decided that Planning Board members should submit their comments to Brestrup by May 27 so that they can be discussed in depth at the June 17 Planning Board meeting. Sustainability Coordinator Stephanie Ciccarello will provide comments on resilience and sustainability.
The goal is to have a page on the Town website where the public can comment on the proposed Master Plan. Work will be coordinated with the Community Resources Committee of the Town Council.
Brestrup gave a similar presentation to the CRC on May 19.
Temporary Bylaw Change to Assist Post Pandemic Reopening Downtown
The Planning Board discussed a proposed temporary bylaw change that would allow Building Commissioner Rob Morra, in consultation with Brestrup, to administratively approve changes to existing businesses and establishment of new businesses in vacant storefronts.
The temporary bylaw would be in effect for 180 days. It would allow expedited approval of expanded outdoor seating, live entertainment, and drive-through deliveries (curbside pickup) without having to go through a long approval process involving one or more boards. Under the temporary bylaw, waivers for parking and sign design, lighting, and outdoor furnishing could also be granted by Morra. He would obtain input from the Fire Department, Police Department, DPW, Department of Public Health, and Town Manager. Planning Board members were enthusiastic about the proposed temporary bylaw, but wanted to know what would happen after 180 days. Levenstein wanted to know if applicants would then go through the current approval process. Jack Jemsek wanted to know how the temporary bylaw would apply outside the downtown area, such as in South Amherst. McGowan thought the process should be different for established and new businesses.
A hearing to discuss the temporary bylaw will be posted in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. There will be a Joint Public Hearing about it with the Planning Board and Community Resource Committee (CRC) on June 10.
The Board then approved a request by the owners of Colonial Village to consolidate several parcels and to swap a small parcel of land with developer Amir Mikhchi to make way for playground equipment from North Village which will be moved to Colonial Village after North Village is demolished.
The meeting adjourned at 10:10 PM