I am writing to express my concern about the direction in which the Town Council is taking Amherst in regard to town planning decisions. Our democratic governing principals strive for checks and balances within government. The Town Council seems about to throw this power balance out of whack. If the CRC is the body that will change our zoning by-laws and in addition will be the body that will appoint the Town Planning board (which must approve the zoning by-law additions and changes,) then it appears that one small group of people (seven, I believe) will be able to control and implement their particular vision of what is best for the town. This aim was clearly demonstrated when the CRC recruited enough new members so that Michael Burtwhistle would no longer be a member of the Planning Board. I do not know Michael, but having watched Planning Board meetings, it is clear that he was a very knowledgeable member who knew Amherst Zoning bylaws in depth, had institutional memory, and at times, disagreed with some other members of the board. This meant that board members were able to listen to more than one perspective, a perspective they may not have thought of themselves. I am dismayed that members of our town council do not wish to entertain more than one point of view on how the town should move forward.
I hope that Town Council will look back to the development that took place in Amherst during the 1960’s and 70’s. It was basically unchecked growth with apparently little oversight by the town (note buildings like the Heritage Bank). Our Design Review Board and additional zoning by-laws were a response to this unchecked, unreviewed unthought-out rapid development.
We risk the same scenario now if we remove our remaining checks. We need to spread the development decisions over several diversely populated entities, not consolidate it to one small group of people with a single vision of growth.
The rationale has been that we need more low cost housing and a way to increase our tax base. Those are important issue and need to be addressed. However, I think it is imperative to address the immediate issue of who should have the power to develop and implement new zoning by-laws in Amherst. It appears that a consolidation of power in the hands of a few is taking place.
Mary Sayer is a resident of Amherst.
Editor’s Note: This letter was originally sent to all members of the Town Council.