Letter: Murals For Rise Marijuana Dispensary Should Have Been Subject Of A Public Hearing

Mural by San Francisco artist Ricky Watts, one of several artists contending to paint Murals on the Rise Marijuana Dispensary. Photo: amherstma.gov

The ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeals] this week voted that murals for three of the four walls at RISE on Meadow Street were changes that are not substantially different from what was allowed in their special permit. This was with zero input from the public, particularly North Amherst residents who drive by this busy intersection daily. The public was not informed that this was on the agenda and residents were not allowed any voice in the matter. 

I read the proposal and looked at the “art,” which seems more appropriate to NYC than rural Amherst. “Art” is in the eye of the beholder! Bad enough cannabis is providing our only path to economic development, but it doesn’t need to sock us in the face each time we drive by. (See link below, pp. 21-28, for a look at the proposed art).

I notice that the ZBA is the final arbiter of what will be painted on those three walls and that this project will be executed in the next month. Is there a way that  Amherst residents, North Amherst in particular, can have any input in the process of selecting  the final murals?

I sure hope that there is some remedy here. 

Hilda Greenbaum

Hilda Greenbaum is a 65-year resident of the Amherst area and a 50-year resident of Amherst, a town meeting member 1975–2018, and a  former member of various town boards and committees, including Public Transportation, Assessors, and Zoning Board of Appeals. Her particular interests are land use and historic preservation.

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Murals For Rise Marijuana Dispensary Should Have Been Subject Of A Public Hearing

  1. Correction:
    The Building Inspector, not the ZBA, is the final arbitor of the appropriateness of the art selected. Citizen input should be directed to Mr. Robert Morra, Building Inspector.

  2. I went through hundreds of pages of testimony and documents from both the 2016 Medical Marijuana Special Permit and the ZBA2019-10 allowing the retail marijuana use. I found nothing referring to a more than 250 x 10 foot murals.
    I am NOT against the murals per se since the final design has not been produced yet. I am concerned with the process whereby the abutters were not notified of the meeting affecting changes to a property across the street and next door to their farms and that no abutters are represented on the selection committee. I am also concerned that the project will be completed by mid-October while the students are still in residence for another month because it implies the mural could be acting as an advertising sign for a pot shop.
    There is no provision in Condition #6 for murals. None were approved, so shouldn’t this be considered a substantial change from what was approved? If the murals were considered advertising signs, the bylaw would limit the size to less than 10% of the area of the facade and would require a public hearing.
    This is so similar to the conduct of the Special Permit hearing for the Mill District project where neighbors and their attorneys were given short shrift, summarily dismissed, that I am concerned that future projects planned for North Amherst (e.g., The Eruptor) will be treated similarly if we don’t speak up now.
    The link for their most recent permit zba2019-10 is:


  3. I just watched the meeting and a few things concerned me:
    1) When ZBA member Dillon Maxfield asked if abutters had been notified and if there was any “public comment from anyone who lives in that area?”, Tom Reidy (Counsel for Rise) responded, “we didn’t need to notify the abutters because this is a public meeting.”
    2) Then ZBA Chair, Steve Judge, said, “generally public meetings don’t have public comment.”
    [This seems wrong. According to Section 9.12 (b) of the Charter, “All regular meetings of multiple-member bodies shall provide for a period of public comment.”]
    3) The Selection Jury for the mural artist lists the following four people as representing the Town of Amherst, but only (Bill) would seem to me to qualify as a representative of the Town: Cinda Jones, Hannah Rechtschaffen (who works for Cinda at The Mill District), Public Art Commission Chair Bill Kaizen, and Gabrielle Gould (Downtown BID Executive Director).
    4) The condition of the Special Permit that was in question states “6. Any significant alterations to building…shall be reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals at a public meeting.” Steve Judge made a motion to find that murals covering three walls of the building was not a “significant change.” If this isn’t a significant change, then what would be?
    You can watch this short 10-minute discussion beginning at 22min23sec here: https://youtu.be/-dfOn_hyn8Q?t=1342

  4. Steve Judge was correct in his thought, but probably could have elaborated a little more: the ZBA Chair allows public comment or not, at his discretion, on the Public Meeting matter at hand. This is different from the public comment period generally scheduled on other matters not bearing on the Public Meeting topic(s). Public comment is always taken for Public Hearings under consideration.

  5. In several hundred pages of documents and testimony for two Rise Special Permits there was no mention of art or murals on any wall to say nothing about more than 2500 sq. feet of mural visible from the street. To many folks this is a substantial change requiring abutters be notified for a public hearing to modify the 2019 permit. Tom, in your earlier years on the ZBA you wouldn’t allow a garage that impinged a few inches in the side yard setback even when supported by all the abutters! Yet you don’t see a problem with the process here.
    My problem is not the art. But the process whereby abutters aren’t even on the committee to select the artist.

    In this case the abutters were not notified of this agenda item and would not know about it unless they were legal notice junkies or subscribed to ZBA alerts from town hall.

    God help the City of Amherst.

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