Letter: Proposed Changes To Zoning Priorities Require Community Impact Review

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

I am writing to express my concern that, without the benefit of public input, the Community Resources Committee (CRC) is recommending a set of revised zoning priorities that are intended to maximize densification and minimize design standards and review throughout Amherst. While the CRC claims to be following the Master Plan, it has, in fact, “cherry-picked” portions of that document, while disregarding the Plan’s overarching mandate that new growth in Amherst should be designed to protect … and preserve its existing character.”

As the Master Plan states: “the Amherst community takes pride in the historic character of its developed areas. Even as higher density development occurs, design standards can help to ensure that such new development is in accordance with the character and needs of the community. Design standards can also be used to support the development of well-connected, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods.”

The CRC’s memorandum to the Council (dated December 21, 2020) includes extensive recommended zoning revisions, the intent of which is to maximize density while relaxing (if not totally eliminating) design standards. I am not aware that the CRC has provided visual renderings of its proposed 10+ zoning changes applied to real properties. The CRC simply has not done the comprehensive research and analysis it committed to do under its Community Impact Review process. The result is that the Town Council will be voting without a clear understanding of the bylaw changes, how they interact with each other and current zoning bylaw rules — and what will be the result on the ground.

The zoning priorities and changes the CRC has submitted to the Town Council will forever alter the ambience and scale of downtown Amherst. The assumption that any development is better than no development presents our town with a false choice. We can get this wrong and it is essential that we get this right.

Pamela  Rooney 
for  Citizens For Better Planning

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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