Letter: Moratorium Is Last Resort For Residents Whose Questions And Concerns Are Routinely Dismissed By Town Government

Photo: Toni Cunningham

Editor’s note:  The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council and Planning Board on April 26,2021.

As you’ve all heard from me before, I’d hoped not to have to write again, but questions asked, and comments made, during the April 21 Planning Board (PB) meeting necessitate a reply.

Conflating Building Moratorium With Issuance Of Business Licenses
During the portion of the PB agenda set aside for “Proposed Zoning Article 16,” there seemed to  be a conflating of the “Temporary [building] Moratorium” with the issuance of business permits.

The citizen petition doesn’t in any way speak to business licenses, so the suggestion that the moratorium will be the death knell for new business in Amherst doesn’t ring true. New businesses are welcome to come to Amherst before, during, and after a 6-month moratorium in   permitting new apartment buildings downtown. If the inference is that a delay in permitting new buildings — such as the soon-to-be-proposed 11-13 East Pleasant – translates to a delay in new ground-floor commercial space becoming available, sadly, with the closing of Blue Marble, Bart’s Ice Cream, and a few other retail establishments downtown, Amherst doesn’t have a shortage of space for new businesses wanting to locate here. (In fact, it’s taken more than three  years for much of the ground floor at One East Pleasant to be filled.)

Petition Signatories Dismissed As “Some People” Living In Downtown Adjacent Neighborhoods
Toward the end of the moratorium discussion, one Board member dismissed the petition signatories as a few people who don’t want more building in their “backyard”.  This member went on to say that it’s everyone’s downtown. Couldn’t agree more – it is everyone’s downtown, which it is why the petition already has over 800 signatures from residents who  live ALL over Amherst.

Ageism At Work As Residents Who Follow Town Affairs Characterized As People Who Don’t Work?
Also,  during the 4/21 PB meeting, one member stated (without meaning to be ironic) appreciation for Cinda Jones’ email sharing the perspective of “the working class, the people who are keeping things running. That perspective is a minority in terms of the voices we hear. I wish we heard more from them, but they’re all so busy working that they don’t have time to come to these meetings or to keep up with everything in ‘The Daily Hampshire Gazette’ or on the Town website.”

Implicit in the above statement is the assumption that those pushing back against a certain kind of development downtown are privileged by virtue of having the time to partake in participatory democracy. On more than one occasion during Town Board and Committee meetings (as well as other forums, such as Nextdoor
UMass), my neighbors and I are accused of having “too much time on our hands”  — that his ia what allow us to remain abreast of Town affairs and Zoom into meetings. Interestingly, I’ve never heard advocates for new schools or  a renovated library (of which I am one) characterized as such.

And all too often, those pushing back against the proliferation of pricey dormitory-style apartments are also tarred as NIMBYs, when many of us, for whom downtown is our “backyard,” have long advocated for inclusionary zoning and affordable housing throughout Amherst. We are neither idle nor NIMBYs, but longstanding, vocal supporters of inclusionary zoning – and yes, even in our backyard.

Moratorium Request – Why Now?
At another point during the meeting, one member asked why opposition to the dormitory-style apartments downtown is happening now?  In fact, it’s been happening since the application for Kendrick Place first appeared before the Planning Board five or more years ago.

Many residents attended and spoke during public hearings when the proposal for Kendrick Place came before the Board. We asked for onsite parking, but were told that the days of students bringing cars to school was a thing of the past. In fact, we were told that Kendrick Place wasn’t student housing at all, but intended for families, professionals and retirees. When we pointed out that, on the architect’s website, Kendrick Place appeared under “Student Apartments,” the posting was promptly taken down. When we asked that the building be four stories rather than five; that there be appropriate set-backs and green space, we were ignored  and dismissed as naysayers. The same scenario played out when the proposal for One East Pleasant came before the Planning Board the following year.

For as long as I’ve lived in Amherst, those in the community advocating for some restraints on unfettered development are routinely dismissed as anti-development and obstructionist. We’d rather our concerns and comments be considered and respected, than dismissed as annoyances, so that we wouldn’t have to petition for a moratorium, the option our Town charter provides as a last resort for residents to have their voices heard.

Jennifer Taub

Jennifer Taub is a resident of Amherst.

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6 thoughts on “Letter: Moratorium Is Last Resort For Residents Whose Questions And Concerns Are Routinely Dismissed By Town Government

  1. One of the great distortions of Amherst political life, literally for decades: when one loses an argument, one then claims that one wasn’t heard.

    It’s literally the definition of living in a community: when you live in a genuine community, sometimes you lose arguments. I know that I’ve lost a few, including one big one in 2016-2017.

  2. This isn’t about the schools and the library — both of which I support – not that that’s relevant here. My letter was about countering a false narrative – namely that there were no objections to the Archipelago buildings before they went up.

    Specifically, a PB member asked why the sudden objection – to which I was replying that it wasn’t sudden at all – in fact, many residents have been voicing objections to the Archipelago properties since the buildings first came before the PB in 2014. Clearly, it was an argument my side lost — Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant were built, and the repercussions we feared came to pass: (1) no onsite parking, so tenants park on residential streets and overnight in the commercial lots up and down Pleasant Street (2) retail establishments closed to make way for One East Pleasant disappeared, never to return; (3) absence of affordable units; and (4) the buildings are expensive dormitory style apartments designed for students — not for families, professionals and retirees, as presented in public forums by the developers.

    Citizens have the right to use every recourse that is allowed without it being dismissed as sour grapes. How is this any different than when Amherst Forward lost its first vote on the schools and demanded a re-vote at Town Meeting?

  3. Thank you for writing this, Jennifer.
    Regarding this line: “those in the community advocating for some restraints on unfettered development are routinely dismissed as anti-development and obstructionist. We’d rather our concerns and comments be considered and respected, than dismissed as annoyances, so that we wouldn’t have to petition for a moratorium, the option our Town charter provides as a last resort for residents to have their voices heard.”
    You could replace “unfettered development” in this sentence with any number of things.

    I have often felt that the lack of respect for diverse viewpoints and the unwillingness to compromise has been at the root of many of the battles in Amherst. Any objection is deemed obstructionist and instead people are effectively told to shut up and defer to the “experts” elected to “represent us”. Often I have learned they are no more expert than the interested resident who follows along.
    Elections are popularity contests rather than merit or skills-based, and often a political party’s clout results in winner-takes-all rather than proportional representation.

    What would happen if people were truly listened to and the solution incorporated some of their suggestions instead of railroading through a controversial plan with 50%+1? I predict the outcome would be better and there would be far fewer fights. Alas, it seems the ruling majority do not feel any need to listen or to compromise.

  4. Thanks, Toni! You hit the nail right on the head. Why can’t we find the middle ground?

  5. You have my vote, Toni. Jennifer, many thanks for your comment.

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