REPORT: ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS (ZBA) MEETING (8/8/19) (creative commons)

Present: Mark Parent (Chair), Joan O’Meara, Steven Judge, Tom Simpson  (Matthew Wilk was absent, which meant that a unanimous vote of the four members present was required to grant a special permit)

Special Permit Request  for 119 North Whitney Street

Tip Up, LLC requested a special permit to allow a non-owner-occupied duplex at 119 North Whitney Street. This case was continued from July 11, 2019. Because the engineering work requested by the ZBA had not been done, the case was continued to September 26, 2019 at 6:05 p.m.

Special Permit for Old North Amherst Fire Station, 24 Pine Street

Casey Jo Dufresne asked to modify Special Permits, ZBA FY2002 and ZBA FY2017-18 to remove the condition that requires the Old North Amherst Fire Station to be owner-occupied. This historic fire station is located in  the North Amherst Historic District.

On October 15, 2001 the Amherst Historical Commission had reviewed three proposals for the adaptive re-use of the North Amherst Fire Station: an owner-occupied single family residence, a non-owner-occupied rental property, and artist-occupied rental probably, presumably studio and exhibition space open to the community.

The commission had discussed each proposal relative to retaining the architectural integrity of the building and “how the proposal would affect the long-term stability of the building.” The rental property proposals had been rejected outright because they “would create excessive demands on the tiny building” and because the building is too small for use as live/work quarters”; in addition, there was no room for on-site parking at that time.

The commissioners had voted unanimously to support the proposal to sell the structure for use as a single-family home  because the new owner Christopher Tarr, had presented significant historical data, extensive on-site architectural research, and said they planned to maintain the historic character of the building.  In 2004, Tarr was given a Preservation Award of Merit by the Amherst Historical Commission for the Old North Fire Station’s careful restoration and conservation to a private residence. 

In 2017 the present owner Casey Jo Dufresne acquired a small parcel from the neighbor to the east and requested a modification of their permit to allow on-site parking. Both in 2002 and 2017 the requirement for owner-occupancy was a condition of the special permit to allow the non-conforming use and non-conforming lot size as not significantly more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing use (see Article 9: Non-conforming Lot, Uses and Structures. page 94). 

Old North Fire Station at 24 Pine Street, restored to an owner- occupied residence. Photo: Hilda Greenbaum.

The request was opposed by neighbors Amy Wehle and Russ Billings in a letter to the Planning Department, raising concerns about the poor condition of rental properties in the neighborhood owned by absentee landlords.  Given the resistance of abutters and the previous decisions of both the Historical Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, the owner withdrew their application for the change of use from owner-occupied to rental property.

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