Opinion: 40R Zoning Is Materially Deficient, Lacks Proper Citizen Input, And Offers Little Benefit To Amherst Residents

Artist's conception of 40R buildout for Triangle and North Pleasant Streets in Amherst, 2039. Photo: amherstma.gov

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of next week’s fourth and final forum on Smart Growth (40R zoning), we are reprinting an applicable op/ed from Pamela Rooney that we published back in July.

Editor’s Note:  The following was submitted as testimony to the Planning Board in June .  See here for supplemental materials submitted with this testimony along with a compilation of all letters submitted to the Planning Board on 40R zoning as of July 7, 2020.

I have reviewed the 40R Proposal prepared by consultants Sonnaborg and Eisen, attended 40R Public Forums, and studied the materials provided on the Town website.

I was a member of the Amherst Planning Board from 2000 to 2006 and chair for two of those years. I was a member of Amherst Town Meeting for 8 years, am a Registered Landscape Architect (MA license #870), and Assistant Director of Campus Planning at UMass Amherst. As an Amherst resident since 1992, I have lived at 42 Cottage Street since 1999. It is a safe and pleasant, older neighborhood with houses set back from the road. The mature trees that line the street contribute to its character. We live adjacent to the Triangle Street Limited Business District (B-L) and within walking distance to Amherst Center. I am not anti-development and am willing to work with others. I feel a need to express my concerns with the 40R Proposal and they are enclosed.

Briefly stated, the 40R Proposal, as presented,

• Is not the tool Amherst should adopt to meet Master Plan goals.

• Locates priority development based in large part on the availability of willing sellers.

• Suffers from lack of public input. Not one Amherst citizen acting in the role of resident is on the list of people interviewed during the scoping process, and it is lacking any input from affected neighborhoods, such as Cottage Street or North Prospect.

• Public Forums were just primers on “what is 40R” with insufficient time for substantive citizen input.

• Does not identify or address on-the-ground implications and the FOREVER impacts to the look and feel of Amherst Center and the close-in, historic neighborhoods.

• Makes today’s B-L districts the most vulnerable to economic development pressures with greatest potential impact to neighborhoods.

• Leaps across Triangle Street into the B-L and brings with it the potential for massing and scale of an urban core, such as is already possible in Amherst’s General Business District where 5-story apartment buildings are already allowed.

• Washes away B-L zoning that, by intent, is the buffer between neighborhoods and Town Center and in its place overrides current height restrictions and setbacks.

• Throws buildings of maximum density and height (65’), with zero (0’) required setbacks up against established, pedestrian-scale neighborhoods, including Cottage Street – a gateway to Town Center that is heavily used by many pedestrians from surrounding neighborhoods.

• Transforms the Triangle B-L into high-walled canyons of massing and scale and forsakes Amherst’s small-town charm for the hardscape of an urban scene.

• Completely contradicts the stated intent of creating “transects and seamless transitions” from neighborhoods to Town Center!

• Is not good government. It does nothing to protect and promote the health and well-being of Amherst neighborhoods, something I expect Amherst leadership to recognize anduphold.

I am not against appropriate development or the production of additional housing in Amherst, but we can do far better than what is offered in the 40R Proposal. There needs to be a collaborative effort to identify, protect, and create the character we like, while preparing for change that recognizes, avoids, and minimizes impacts to those values and still makes economic sense to pursue.

The 40R proposal is materially deficient. If Amherst intends to pursue this line of zoning at all, it must include citizen input, be substantially modified and improved, and resubmitted for review. I would request that no board or town entity adopt 40R as currently written. The enclosures (see link above) describe more fully the issues with 40R as presented. If you have question

Pamela Rooney

Pamela Rooney was a member of the Amherst Planning Board from 2000 to 2006. She is a Registered Landscape Architect and Assistant Director of Campus Planning at UMass Amherst.

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1 thought on “Opinion: 40R Zoning Is Materially Deficient, Lacks Proper Citizen Input, And Offers Little Benefit To Amherst Residents

  1. As well as the supplemental materials and letters recommended above, I urge everyone to look through the materials available on the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust Fund section of the Town’s website. It’s actually rather poignant to follow a path from the stellar goals of “Planning for Housing Production for Amherst” only to end up at (surprise!) a dense urban corridor in the downtown.

    The most substantive resident input occurred during the second forum held June 4, 2019. There people questioned the need to incentivize new development, expressed dismay over the five-story dorms and voiced skepticism that a 40R overlay would actually produce affordable housing.

    Most important, participants advocated for several other suitable intersections ripe for infill and mixed-use development – East Amherst Center, Pomeroy Village, Atkins Corner, North Amherst and University Drive – none of which received any attention.

    Sadly, there is a faction in town seemingly hell bent on turning a distinguished college town into a thin imitation of a city.

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