REPORT: FINANCE COMMITTEE MEETING (10/22/19)
Present: Town Councilors Andy Steinberg (chair), Cathy Schoen (vice chair), Lynn Griesemer, Dorothy Pam, Shalini Bahl-Milne. Non-voting members: Mary Lou Theilman and Robert Hegner. Non-voting member Sharon Povenelli was absent.
- Steinberg (at-large) announced that a “Four Towns” meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7 at 9 a.m. at Amherst Regional Middle School. These meetings are where the funding formula for the regional school district is discussed. Steinberg said that the Town of Shutesbury has expressed a wish to revert to the state statutory funding formula. He suggested that a mediator might be needed to resolve the issue, and said a mediation took place recently on Martha’s Vineyard. It was decided that Griesmer (District 2) would accompany Steinberg to the Dec. 7 meeting as another Amherst representative..
- Steinberg said the Town Council voted to fund an engineering study for rebuilding of the Centennial Water Treatment plant in Pelham. He said he hoped the study would include placing solar panels on the site, in order to cover not only the energy requirements of the building, but the processing functions necessary for operations. In a conversation with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Steinberg was told that time constraints may prevent the placement of solar panels prior to the plant opening.
Percent for Art Bylaw
Discussion of a revised Percent for Art bylaw was tabled until the next meeting.
Affordable Housing Plan
Most of the meeting was devoted to discussion of the Affordable Housing Plan draft
put forward by John Hornik of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust. The draft plan was presented to the Planning Board on Oct. 2, and the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) and Community Resource Committee on Oc 21. CPAC Chair Nate Budington and Assistant Comptroller Holly Bowser were present to discuss the implications of the policy for CPAC.
Schoen raised several questions about the information needed to put the policy into perspective, including: How many affordable units have been created in the past five years? How many total housing units have been built? Do rent-subsidized units count in the total of affordable housing units? How much money and from what sources has money been spent to create the units? Schoen stated that tax incentives should be included in town funds spent on affordable housing, and said that between $2.6 and $2.8 million in tax incentives (to be provided over 10 years) were given to North Square to create 26 affordable units.
Bahl-Milne (District 5) pointed out that there are ways of incentivizing more affordable housing that do not cost money, such as decreasing lot sizes and allowing duplexes in single-family neighborhoods. Accessory dwellings also increase available housing stock. Griesmer pointed out the need for workforce housing, for people who work in Amherst but cannot afford to live here.
Several councilors bemoaned what they said is the narrow nature of Amherst’s inclusionary zoning bylaw, which is only triggered in rare instances by special permit requests. Even with the broadening of the affordable housing requirements passed at the last Town Meeting in May 2018, most developers have found ways to get zoning waivers , or been able to meet the guidelines without triggering the inclusionary zoning bylaw. Schoen pointed out that in Cambridge, every project with ten or more units requires inclusion of affordable housing. Planning Board member Janet McGowan is currently working on a draft of a new inclusionary zoning bylaw, which will be more broadly implemented. In the past, there was fear of not attracting developers to the town by placing too many restrictions, but the number of projects built and proposed over the past few years indicates that this is no longer a big concern.
Budington and Bowser, representing CPAC, stated that the committee reviews each proposal for funding individually, based on its purpose and the availability of supplemental funding. In the past, there has not been any overall policy as to how much or what kind of housing should be funded, only that at least 10 percent of CPAC funds must go to housing. CPAC would welcome an affordable housing policy, but they are wary about it being so specific that it would not allow funding of an innovative project that did not fall under the stated policy. They felt that there was not time to incorporate a housing policy in fiscal year 2020 CPAC funding, but will consider it for future years.
The next finance meeting will be on Tuesday, November 5 at 2:30 PM