Opinion: Priorities for Updating The Zoning Bylaw

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Editor’s note: The Community Resource Committee of the Town Council (CRC) initiated a discussion of priorities for revising the Town’s zoning bylaws at a joint meeting with the Town Council on September 15. Councilors were asked to submit their individual priorities to the CRC.  The responses of Councilors who do not sit on the CRC were summarized in an anonymized memo by CRC Chair Mandi Jo Hanneke (At large), which can be read here. The priorities of the Planning Board were summarized in a memo that can be found here.

Prior to that meeting, The Indy invited all 13 Councilors to share their individual visions and priorities for revising the Zoning Bylaws.  Two responded:  Dorothy Pam (District 3) and Darcy DuMont (District 5).   The Indy welcomes these detailed policy papers and encourages other Councilors to share their perspectives with the public to promote a wide ranging civic discussion on zoning priorities. 

Darcy Dumont

1. Create an inclusive and thoughtful process for updating the Zoning Bylaw.
A. Slowly collect community input, using a broadly inclusive, transparent, and democratic process.

B. Hire a consultant to look at best practices in other college towns.

C. Use a lens of climate action, racial equity, and affordability, starting from the beginning of the process of updating the Zoning Bylaw. Use the goals adopted by the Town Council and stated in the Master Plan as a guide, in addition to input from residents.

2. Have UMass take responsibility for housing its students in UMass dorms and apartments.

3. Expand Affordable Housing

A. Provide housing that meets the needs of all residents, with a special emphasis on maintaining or expanding moderately priced family housing.Provide direct inclusionary zoning—require that 15 percent of the units in new developments have a range of affordability. At present, inclusionary zoning is only required in certain situations that involve special permits and dimensional changes. 

B. Create additional funding sources for the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust.

C. Set up a revolving loan fund for homeowners to add a housing unit to their house or property (apartment or cottage), a way to increase housing density and keep homes affordable throughout Amherst. Provide additional funding for low-income homebuyers.

D> Require that developers designate that new apartment units are for non-undergraduate individuals, families, and senior citizens.A.Keep town ownership of properties, such as East Street School, North Amherst School, Hickory Ridge, old Hitchcock Center (if bought) as potential Community Land Trust sites for mixed-income and affordable housing projects. This will ensure affordability forever and keep the town’s options open.

4. Maintain Amherst’s small town, historic character in the Town Center.
A. Adopt the Hastings historic block model and adaptations of that model, as the standard for building setback, height, and design in downtown zones. See google images related to Amherst MA.

B. Reduce building heights in the BG (Business General) zone (core downtown district) to 3 stories.

C. Keep the BL (limited business buffer) zone at 3 stories and get community input on how it should be developed. The limited business district is Hallock Street (west of Kendrick Park), North and South Prospect Streets, and Triangle Street. 

D. Require wide sidewalks, and at least 15 feet of setback for new construction, in the dimensional table. Currently developers can provide zero setback in the BG zone.

E. Eliminate “footnote a” to the dimensional table, which allows any building height increase, increases in lot coverage, number of floors, side and back setbacks, lot frontage, minimum lot areas, etc. without limits. We need to have clear dimensional requirements and to apply those requirements consistently. 

F.Make Design Review Board approval mandatory, not a recommendation.

G. Create standards for “liveability” of new apartment buildings, including requirements for fresh air, air circulation, and open space (balconies and greenspace).

5. Treat Village Center Planning equally.
Provide an equal amount of energy to Village Center planning and zoning changes. 

A. Get community input directly and from District Councilors on priority actions to implement.

B. Spur business in the village centers.

6. Protect neighborhoods’ quality of life, including low- and moderate-income family neighborhoods

A. Limit the number of unrelated renters to three in order to discourage investor-purchasing of our single-family housing stock and the removal of moderately priced housing from availability to moderate income families. Otherwise, provide curbs on investors purchasing single-family homes or condos in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods. Single-family homes housing groups of students and owned by predatory investors/landlords are gutting moderate-income family neighborhoods.

B. Require owner occupancy and/or limits on student occupancy for zoning changes that would increase density on single-family residence zoned lots.

C. Require owner occupancy for a permit to rent a single-family home as an AirBnB.

D. Encourage programs to purchase single-family homes in our moderate-income neighborhoods and keep them affordable in perpetuity.

E. Adopt a Derelict House bylaw to prevent landlords from allowing rental properties to fall apart.

F. Inspect rental housing every two years. 

7. Incorporate the Town’s climate action goals and plan as put forward by the Energy and Climate Action Committee and adopted by the Town Council. In the meantime, prepare to reduce emissions and create climate resiliency with the following actions.

A. Provide incentives such as tax rebates for developments that meet energy efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings, and to landlords who provide retrofits in existing buildings.

B. Require developers and landlords to create 10-year transition plans including incremental steps they will be taking in the direction of zero net energy, solar, and EV readiness, such as those used in Cambridge and Somerville.

C.Require developers and landlords to participate in the regional Community Choice Aggregation Joint Powers Entity as a condition of building or operating.

D. Reduce summer peak energy usage by limiting building height and by using or adding shade trees.

E. Ensure that any new development is close to services and public transit in downtown or village centers, to encourage the use of public transit, walking, and biking.

F. Promote pedestrian and bicycle friendly greenway corridors and connectivity to encourage fossil fuel-free travel. Create pedestrian-only spaces.

G> Condition development without parking on leases providing notice that Town parking permits will not be issued to residents of those developments.

H. Promote EV ownership and ridesharing/ addition of EV infrastructure and EV and rideshare parking.

I. Create food/transportation/service desert overlay districts, targeting increased public transportation connectivity.

J. Create a model solar siting bylaw, based on best practices with a preference for solar mounted on parking lots, buildings and brownfields rather than on green space or forested land and with integration of solar facilities usage into the regional Community Choice Energy Joint Powers Entity.

K.Promote green, sustainable industry.

L. Promote sustainable farming and forestry.

8. Protect farmland and forests from sprawl
A.Create buffer zones around farms, natural resources, and open space by rezoning for lower density and acquiring development rights. 

B. Institute a moratorium on the construction of homes larger than 3,000 sq. ft.

9. Protect renters’ rights
A.Require landlords to disclose, before rental, heating and utility costs and the energy efficiency rating of the unit.

B.Provide a renters’ bill of rights.

Darcy DuMont is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now, Western MA, a founding member of Western MA Community Choice Energy, and an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council 

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