Town Councilors Propose 180 Day Moratorium On New Construction Of Multi-Unit Buildings

Architect's rendering of proposed apartment building at 11-13 East Pleasant Street viewed from west. 1 East Pleasant Street is pictured to the south (right). Photo: Amherst Planning Department

Town Councilors Darcy DuMont (District 5), Cathy Schoen (District 1) and Dorothy Pam (District 3),  submitted  a proposal to the Amherst Town Council today (3/15) to implement a temporary moratorium on the construction of multiple unit buildings downtown.  The moratorium would apply only to new permit applications and would be in force for 180 days, with the possibility of a 90 day extension, in order to allow the town to complete key revisions of the town zoning bylaws.

The Town Council adopted new zoning priorities on January 4 and since then the Planning Board , Planning Department, and the Community Resources Committee have been working on composing revisions to the zoning bylaw needed to meet those priorities.  The proposed changes have led to lively debates and have engendered considerable feedback from downtown and near downtown residents who have written many letters to Council and to The Indy raising questions, concerns and suggestions  (see here and here and here for examples).

The Councilors seek a delay in further construction of new multi-unit buildings until new zoning bylaws can be implemented. The proposed temporary 180 day (6-month) moratorium on new building permits to construct residential buildings with three (3) or more units would apply to the B-G, B-L, and R-G districts. All three have been the focus on potential zoning bylaw changes and proposed new developments. This would not affect developments that have already been permitted, nor would it apply to permits to build new accessory dwelling units (ADU), single family homes, or duplexes.

A 180 day delay will provide time for town staff and a consultant to provide outreach to residents, to assist in drafting design standards and to amend the zoning requirements regarding:

  • streetscape, side-walk widths, and green space for new multi-unit developments
  • building heights and setbacks required in the zoning bylaw dimensional table
  • inclusionary zoning requirements
  • the definition of mixed-use buildings
  • municipal parking overlay in the B-G District that does not require parking spaces for new residential buildings and allows removal of existing parking spaces without contribution to a public parking fund, and yet allows tenants to secure town parking permits for town parking spaces.
  • climate action/resilience criteria for new construction recommended in the town Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan

If the Town is not able to implement amended zoning bylaws addressing all of the areas listed before 180 days, then there will be a 90-day extension of the temporary moratorium.

The proposal has been put on the Council’s March 22 agenda and it is likely that it will be referred to the Governance, Organization and  Legislation (GOL)  committee for review , as is the case for all new legislation, 

The complete proposal and the draft legislation can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “Town Councilors Propose 180 Day Moratorium On New Construction Of Multi-Unit Buildings

  1. if you want to express your objection to 5 story dorms, overcrowded neighborhoods, etc, Monday, March 22nd at 6:45, join the zoom call of the town council to say you support the Proposed Temporary Building Moratorium Bylaw, that will stop building permits being issued, until the proper planning is done

    https://www.amherstma.gov/Calendar.aspx?EID=22677

  2. Just another Indy fan letter here! Although I’m absolutely gutted to learn about the fate of 37 North Pleasant and the new developments. When I returned to Western Mass almost two years ago now, I was so happy to find the beautiful old streets and buildings I knew just as I had known them ten years earlier. Coming from LA, where real estate seems to cycle constantly, it was a comfort.

  3. The Gazette article “Petition seeks moratorium on large-scale building projects in Amherst” misconstrued a few points (in the order the article listed them):

    • The term “slum-like” referred to the unwanted possible consequences of allowing many apartment buildings and triplexes in the neighborhoods around downtown. Planning board and town council members have derided “character of the neighborhood” as a “dog whistle” and we are pointing out that “multi-family housing” has also been euphemistic for deliberate overcrowding in inner cities. Character of neighborhoods in Amherst must be preserved, including more diverse and inclusive.

    • There is a widespread and growing discontent with the 5 story apartments, designed for and marketed to students, and there’s no end in sight to more of those. A moratorium would pause a moving train, to make urgent course corrections.

    • Planners and landlords have said out loud that it’s very difficult to attract the stores, service businesses, and restaurants that the public wants and needs; and that dense residential is a much more accessible target, so that’s what’s being designed. That is not good enough. Densified residents want nice things too. And community and guests need reasons to spend time and money in downtown Amherst.

    • People against these kinds of projects, and against “unlocking” neighborhoods for much densification, are not against development; they just want it to be in scale with the town and downtown and needs of all.

    • The current projects have displaced businesses. Which is why the new 5 story building replaced empty buildings and a parking lot. Several going businesses were displaced for this project.

    • There have been hundreds of “new beds” added since the aging housing production plan was made. Also, UMass is building more dorms (finally) and college age demographics, plus remote learning trends, predict a drop in college populations. Do we have a housing shortage? Where is the data?

    • Community members who are opposed to what is happening downtown, and to the proposed zoning changes being simultaneously being “explored” and “promoted” would LOVE more public input. Such community participation is a mainstay of Smart Growth and the town’s Master Plan

    • Several kinds of development can happen during a moratorium, including various methods of creating additional dwelling units already allowed, but rarely utilized, in the RN neighborhoods near downtown, characterized by relatively small plots. Maybe better advertising by the town, of what is already possible, would accomplish the goal of owner occupied houses becoming a duplex, or tiny houses in yards, also allowed.

    I do not know anyone who supports a moratorium who does not want to move on, after the town officializes how affordability, design, diversity, setback, height, character, attracting appealing businesses will happen.

    Sincerely,

    Ira Bryck
    Amherst, Mass

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