Planning Board Delays Recommendation On Rezoning CVS Lot For Parking Garage

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Meeting can be viewed here. Planning Board packet is here.  

Present
Planning Board members: Jack Jemsek, chair, Thom Long, Doug Marshall, Janet McGowan, and Johanna Neumann. Absent: Maria Chao and Andrew MacDougall

Planning staff: Planning Director Christine Brestrup. Building Commissioner Rob Morra, and Assistant Pam Field-Sadler.

CVS Parking Lot Rezoning 
Councilor George Ryan (District 3) continued the presentation from July 7 of a plan sponsored by him and Councilor Evan Ross (District 4) to rezone the town-owned parking lot behind CVS on North Prospect Street from General Residential (R-G) to General Business (B-G) in order to permit future construction of a parking garage at the site. 

Ryan said this is the first step of a long process, and does not guarantee a parking garage will be built. He said that current and future changes to the downtown, including renovation of the Jones Library, establishing a music venue at the High Horse, remodeling of the North Common, the Kendrick Park playground, and a performance space on the South Common, among others will increase people coming to downtown and more parking will be needed. He said the Business Improvement District (BID) and Chamber of Commerce strongly support the need for a parking garage at this site.

Further, he said the cost of maintenance of the current lot is about $300,000 for repaving every 10 years or so. A public-private parking lot where a private developer would build and operate a garage and the town would supply the land would cost the town nothing. Ryan said that the 72-space lot is often full on weekends. A garage at the site would concentrate cars in one area, off of Main Street. 

In response to questions from the public and Planning Board about why the rezoning needs to be done before there are any plans for a garage, Ryan said that no developer will create a plan if the site is not rezoned first. He added that, although five-story buildings are permitted in the B-G, the vision is for a three-story garage with the first floor mostly underground, and approximately 128 parking spaces. He said the three-story limit would be specified in the Request for Proposals issued for the garage. Because the town owns the land, it can ensure that only a parking garage can be built, not a residential building.

Jack Jemsek noted that revenue from parking has been decreasing since 2015 and wondered why. He also questioned why more stories were not constructed over the Boltwood garage. Planning Director Chris Brestrup said that she was unsure why parking revenue was decreasing, but knew that the Boltwood garage was constructed without above-ground floors because of input from residents of the Clarke House and Ann Whalen. She also said that two more stories at that site would only add about 50 to 70 additional parking spaces.

Janet McGowan questioned how many spaces could be gained at the North Prospect site with the 20-foot buffers required abutting the R-G. She cited a parking study done in the 1990s that did not find even a larger parking garage at that site financially feasible. She said that Ryan’s presentation mentions interested developers and plans. She asked if there is currently a bidder and an architect, and if so, what are these plans? She also thought the Planning Board should get input from the Transportation Advisory Committee about the impact of increased traffic on North Prospect Street. Ryan answered that this plan is not about making money, but about providing parking for downtown businesses.

Doug Marshall said that this was a “weird way” of coming forth with a plan. Ordinarily, the council would first ask the Planning staff to work out plans for the site and get input from the BID and chamber, instead of Ryan presenting the proposal alone.  Ryan replied that the planning staff was “up to its ears” in work (due to the zoning amendments pushed by the council), and if the Planning Board wants more information, the planning staff may need to “put this on the back burner where it will stay for a long time.”

Public comment
Harry Peltz mentioned a community meeting of neighborhood residents. He felt the “cart was being put before the horse, and we don’t know what the horse is.”  He added that neighbors are concerned about access from North Prospect Street, a one-way,  two-lane street with a designated historic district across the street. He wondered what private developer will develop a project that will just break even and not be profitable and noted that the current surface parking lot is never overused.

Both Pam Rooney and Dorothy Pam requested an evaluation of the Boltwood and Amity Street parking lots as well as the North Prospect site. Rooney disagreed that the town could limit the parking lot to three stories if it were zoned B-G, which permits five-story structures. She said it was imperative that there be a buffer for the surrounding neighborhood.

Ronnie Parker said she was new to the neighborhood and wondered whether more cars will actually be used in the future. She added that, as a businesswoman, she knows that no private business will develop a project that will not make money. She also thought that the Department of Transportation will probably not allow the use of North Prospect Street as an access and egress to a parking garage.

Jennifer Taub also agreed that there needed to be a buffer between the BG and RG, and that is why the limited business zone was created. She cautioned that a restriction to three stories might not be adhered to by future planning boards. 

Cathy Schoen said that the Northampton garage has 400 spaces as opposed to the limited number planned for this site. She also worried that much of the parking would be devoted to long-term parking and would not be available for downtown patrons.

Suzannah Muspratt objected to giving public land paid for by taxpayer money to a for-profit developer

According to Town Counsel Joel Bard, a simple majority of the Planning Board is needed to recommend the rezoning plan to the town council, but the council must approve it by a two-thirds vote.

Decision Postponed Until September 29 Meeting
Marshall saw some advantages of the rezoning plan. Like the Northampton garage, it would not be visible from the main downtown streets, and the addition of a garage may make other downtown property more valuable. However, he felt more information was needed and there was no deadline on the decision since there was no pending plan to build at the site.

Long, who was not present at the July 7 meeting and had to abstain from voting at this meeting, wanted to know more about what the risks to the town of rezoning the parcel might be

Discussion will be continued at the September 29 Planning Board meeting. Ryan said he hoped to hear more voices from the business community, but stressed that the town will not be looking at other sites for the garage.

Parking Lot Approved For Sweet Alice Trail Access
Rob Morra presented a plan for a 20-space gravel parking lot on the south side of Bay Road near the roundabout for access to the trails in the area. The lot is surrounded by 50 acres of town conservation land and will connect to the land owned by the Kestrel Trust and the Robert Frost trail. Currently, cars parked along Bay Road have harmed the vegetation and is unsafe. 

The plan requires a waiver because of the increased sign size for an information kiosk and a sign on Bay Road.  Also, a waiver is needed because the gravel surface would not permit permanent striping of the spaces. There would be one accessible space and hoops for bicycle parking. 

The plan was approved 5-0.

Plan For Greenfield Savings Bank ATM Approved
In a hearing continued from July 7 for a free-standing ATM in the parking lot at Amity Street and University Drive, Jim Loynd of Greenfield Savings Bank addressed some of the concerns voiced at the previous discussion

Marshall reported on a site visit which showed that most of the screening vegetation seen on the photos presented at the earlier meeting was no longer present, so his concerns about the safety of the site were allayed. Loynd said that the lighting could be adjusted by a dimmer switch to make the ATM less intrusive to the intersection. He erected a crude model of of the kiosk to show its dimensions on the site.

The plan was approved 4-0. Long abstained because he was not present at the earlier meeting.

The Planning Board will next meet on August 18. At that meeting, the board will discuss the proposed zoning amendments on mixed-use buildings and accessory dwelling units. The hearing on the preliminary subdivision plan submitted for the Archipelago property at 11-15 East Pleasant Street may need to be extended, since the 45-day limit for discussing it will be up on August 25.

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3 thoughts on “Planning Board Delays Recommendation On Rezoning CVS Lot For Parking Garage

  1. I am trying to understand the estimated number of parking spaces would be added by a parking garage at this location. According to the article, at the Planning Board meeting, Councilor Ryan indicated that the current vision is for a 3-story garage with approximately 128 spaces. Ryan mentioned too that the current surface lot owned by the Town has 72 spaces. Does this mean that the garage would add estimated 56 spaces (128 minus 72 = 56) or are the 128 spaces a net figure?

    A downtown parking conducted in 1989-1990 by Arrowstreet, Inc. estimated that a 3 1/2 level garage covering the both the Town and CVS portions of the current surface lot could provide 251 spaces and adjacent surface parking on the site 17 spaces, for a total of 268 spaces. That study also indicated that the current surface lots for the Town and CVS combined have 107 spaces. This means that with Arrowstreet’s configuration, a parking garage would create a net gain of approximately 161 spaces.

    The Arrowstreet study recommended that access to a garage at this site be provided both via North Pleasant Street and by making North Prospect Street a two-way street from Amity Street to the garage entrance. With this change, the study says that on-street parking on this section of North Prospect Street would need to be removed. These removed spaces were not included in the calculation of net added parking spaces above.

    This is not mentioned in the Arrowstreet study, but it’s possible that with a garage, some of the on-street parking near the intersection of Amity Street and North Pleasant Street would also have to be removed for better access and to maintain good sightlines for safety at the intersection.

    Link to Arrowstreet study: https://www.amherstma.gov/1954/1990-Parking-Facilities-Study
    Link to a list of various past downtown parking studies conducted in Amherst (scroll to the bottom of the page): https://www.amherstma.gov/1947/Downtown-Parking-Forum

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