Zoning Board Of Appeals Continues Deliberation On Proposed Supportive Housing At 132 Northampton Road

Aerial rendering of proposed affordable housing project at 132 Northampton Road. Photo:amherstma.gov

Report On The Meeting of the Zoning Board Of Appeals (ZBA)  8/6/20

The meeting was conducted via Zoom webast and was broadcast on Amherst Media Channel 17.  A recording of the meeting can be found here.

Participating: Board members Steve Judge (Chair), Joan O’Meara, Tammy Parks, Keith Langsdale, Dillon Maxfield, and Sharon Waldman, (designated alternate).. Staff: Maureen Pollock, Assistant Planner

Comprehensive Permit for Supportive Housing At 132 Northampton Road
The ZBA continued the public hearing for the Comprehensive Permit requested by Valley Community Development Corporation for supportive studio housing units at 132 Northampton Road. This meeting was a continuation from the hearings on June 25   and July 2.

 This meeting included discussion of the plans for parking management plan and snow removal, but concentrated on the supportive services plan. New Valley CDC Executive Director Jane Loechler and Rachel Loeffler represented Valley CDC.

There was no time allotted for Public Comment, though time will be allotted at the August 20 meeting. ZBA Chair, Steven Judge said that three letters from the public had been received since the last meeting. These were from Jim and Bird Schlessinger, Barbara Wilbur, and Hillary Wilbur Ferro.

Loechler presented the snow removal plan for the project. The aims of the plan is to preserve handicapped access, emergency vehicle turnaround and access to the fire hydrant. Ice control chemicals will be selected that will not damage concrete or surrounding plantings. If there is too much snow to be stored at the periphery of the drive, it may need to be trucked off site. Because many shrubs are planned for around the drive, it may be difficult to accommodate large amounts of snow without damaging them.

The parking management plan includes 14 spaces plus two handicapped spaces for residents. Stickers will be given to vehicles owned by residents, limited to one per unit. There will be spaces for regular staff, and two spaces for guests. From its experience with several other studio unit projects, Valley feels that this is more than enough parking because many residents will not own cars.

ZBA member Keith Langsdale brought up several times during the meeting, that the site is on a steep hill and it would be difficult for residents, especially those with mobility concerns, to navigate the sidewalk to the bus stops at University Drive (0.6 miles) and South Pleasant Street (0.5 miles). He thought  ZBA members should meet and do the walk together. Judge declined, saying he often walks the hill, and “it is a hike”.  He said others are welcome to take the walk on their own. It is not clear why Langsdale repeatedly emphasized this point, since it is not a modifiable aspect of the project.

Architect Tom Chalmers reviewed the dimensions of the project and the setback in relation to the allowed zoning. The majority of the site is zoned residential, but a tiny sliver at the back is zoned Educational. The actual building does not encroach on this area. The lot coverage is slightly higher than allowed due to the long driveway and parking. The structure occupies less than 13 percent of the lot.

Langsdale also had concerns with the placement of the planned smoking shelter being too close to the building, walkway and garden. He felt it should be on the north side of the building (Northampton Road side), where there was more space. Loeffler pointed out that this is a storm water drainage area and may be wet much of the time. It was also the plan to maximize the appearance of the project from Northampton Road.

The bulk of the meeting centered on the Supportive Services Plan for the property.  Valley CDC plans to have a property manager on site for 20 hours per week and on call for the rest of the time. The property management company, Housing Management Resources, manages several other properties in the area and has an office in Northampton. They will be in charge of collecting rent and taking care of repairs in the building.  Valley CDC will be in charge of long term maintenance.

A Resident Service Coordinator will be on site for 27.5-30 hours per week. This is far more than at any other of Valley’s project, and is a concession to demands from neighbors. All residents of the project must be capable of living independently, and those who were previously homeless or who are clients of the Department of Mental Health will already have caseworkers. The role of the Resident Service Coordinator will be to help residents access needed services, arrange activities for the residents and neighbors, help those having trouble meeting rent, or help with other issues that may arise. Use of these services would be voluntary.  A draft of the Supportive Services plan was submitted to Department of Housing and Community Development with the application for funding.

The public hearing on this project will continue on August 20. If the ZBA approves the project, there will be a 20 day appeal period afterward.

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