Letter: Proposed Changes To Zoning Bylaws Appear Inadequate


Architect's rendering of apartment building at 26 Spring Steet. Photo: amherstma.gov

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Planning Board,  Planning Department, Town Council and Town Manager on August 29, 2021.

I would like to briefly share my perspectives on issues to be discussed and decided at the September 1 meeting of the Planning Board:

  • Removing the limit on the maximum number of dwelling units in an apartment building will lead to overdevelopment of overly large apartment buildings, out of scale with Amherst, and also with the number of student apartments Amherst should be supplying. UMass Amherst needs to build more dorms on campus- this is a small town, so their claim of housing a large percentage of students on campus doesn’t account for the 40% of students that seek student rental houses, in a town that is already 60% student rental houses.
  • To have as a standard that a building needs to provide “adequate” parking is inadequate, as inadequate parking will be provided, if that is allowed. Almost every student brings a car, as you will notice everywhere in town.

  • “Mixed use” buildings that have an inadequate amount of public-facing businesses on the ground floor are not  mixed use buildings, and calling them mixed use buildings with such paltry commercial spaces is to allow developers to skirt their civic obligations – and such businesses as rooftop bars or hidden among apartments is inadequate.

  • Allowing apartments to be built without a special permit, but simply a site plan review is inadequate.

Please excuse my over-use of “inadequate.” Feel free to replace it with: insufficient, not enough, deficient, poor, scant, scanty, scarce, sparse, too little, too few, short, in short; supply; paltry, meager; skimpy, sketchy, incomplete, restricted, limited; measly, pathetic, piddling; exiguous.

Ira Bryck

Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the Western Mass. Business Show on WHMP for 7 years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.

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6 thoughts on “Letter: Proposed Changes To Zoning Bylaws Appear Inadequate

  1. – A town of 37,000 people is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a ‘small town’. In many states, Amherst would be considered a small *city*. And if you didn’t want to live near college students, what exactly motivated your choice to live in a town with a major state university and two colleges?

    – Many ‘small towns’ inland in New England will need to become cities soon, whether they like it or not. In the last two weeks, major (post-)tropical storms have caused considerable flooding in Connecticut and New York. The hurricanes are getting worse, and will be hitting us harder every year. Many New Englanders and New Yorkers live right on the coast. With every passing year, that will prove to be less and less of a viable option. Millions of people will need a place to go, and Western Massachusetts seems like it’s going to be a relatively safe place for them to end up. It’s time to build. If you don’t like it, blame 40+ years’ worth of fossil fuel executives for wrecking the climate.

    – The housing stock in this area is outdated, yet overpriced. Particularly once you get out of the downtowns, much of the housing in this area is crumbling 75+-year-old farmhouses or palatial homes that are sized and priced for a football team, yet zone and scoped for a single family. If you want a town that isn’t exclusively dominated by college students, then you should be leading the charge for the development of homes that are affordable for young families, so they can come work here and raise their kids. The prices are too high, and the incentives are too few. And if you, like me, are repulsed by the greed of the developers, that’s a great argument for closing affordability loopholes and creating stricter affordability requirements.

  2. hi, Tony

    to reply to some of your points:

    • I moved to a college town because I liked the environment and culture, and still largely do. And over the years, have enjoyed many projects with college students, including regularly guest speaking at business classes at a few local and regional colleges; helping match MBA intern teams with local companies; having students be my free guests at 25 years of educational dinner forums I produced at the UMass Family Business Center; free advising for students thinking of starting companies; judging in case competitions; setting up business tours and internships for students visiting from several countries; and much more.

    When I first found Amherst, it already had a problem with the majority of houses being rented to students being overpriced, dilapidated, overstuffed, and pricing families out of homeownership, as they can never compete with the spending power of 4 families of those students.

    Why will UMass not build more dorms on campus? Student housing is a profit center for many schools, but even after the obstacle was solved, of public /private partnerships, possibly UMass knows that the “demographic cliff” predicted by UMass President Marty Meehan is coming soon. The adult children of baby boomers are finishing universities, so why beef up dorms on campus? Let private developers, looking to optimize their investment, take the hit, transforming a central business district into many too-large student apartment buildings. The zoning regulations in Amherst are being steadily eroded, and our town of 40,000 (at least 8 months of the year; the other 4 months we are less than half of that) will hit a tipping point where it will no longer be viable for families, seniors, people with lower incomes, etc.

    I want to live in a town that is balanced, that has a downtown where you can shop, eat, commune, with a mixture of all kinds of people. It is my concern that the supports for that town are being broken.

    Nine-hundred Amherst voters petitioned our town government for a moratorium, to take some time to think together, for more public input, for coming to some consensus of what we want our town to look like.

    Nine people on our town council decided that it would take too much time to figure all that out, so simply dismissed the demand to take 6 months in a sensible and fair process. That is NOT why I moved to Amherst.

  3. here is an article describing how UMass system president Marty Meehan predicts declining enrollment in New England colleges, ie: UMass Amherst, are facing an “existential crisis” as they approach a “demographic cliff” – both from declining birth rates after 2008’s financial fallout, as well as children of baby boomers being done with college


  4. – I think we can agree that part of the problem is insufficient housing stock. The Valley is uniquely plagued with greedy landlords who know that they can squeeze $1000+/month/bedroom out of students for a falling-down house. However, all of MA is full of ‘dilapidated’ yet overpriced housing. And the housing is not even built for the present, never mind the future. For instance, many New England residences lack central air, but AC will be as essential as heat in the coming years. I actually agree that UMass ought to build more student housing, especially to replace the North Village homes it razed recently with the stated purpose of building more housing. But in any case, the housing stock around here still needs to be updated. The Valley, including Amherst, needs multi-family homes like duplexes and triplexes, built densely to make cars less of a necessity. This area is growing, and as the demand goes up, more housing is the only way to push us back from that tipping point you mentioned. For people like my partner and I, who are in our early 30s and working hard, there’s already no hope of buying around here. And if we ever can buy, I’d want a home that would be livable in 2040 and beyond.

    – If you want to keep the landlords from ripping tenants off while they let their properties crumble, reform the property tax system to hit them harder, and pass rent controls to prevent the landlords from just passing on those prices to the tenants. As you are a longtime contributor to the UMass business community, I’m sure I won’t have to tell you that the best way to curb out-of-control resource exploitation is to make it less profitable.

    – I thought the moratorium was a good idea, and that the town shouldn’t have overridden it. My point here isn’t to defend the town, only to reaffirm that there are options beyond A) out of state developers bulldozing all of downtown to build luxury condos and B) making no serious changes when serious changes are desperately needed.

  5. Hello gentlemen. I enjoy the discussion and opinions.
    I’m always curious how developers always get criticized for the perceived and sometimes real profits that can be made but the risk of losing much or all is never mentioned. Comments here suggest risks are quite high on large scale developments. And it’s not the public taking the hit. It’s mostly individuals.
    Let’s not crush all developers because you have a beef with few.


  6. Hi, Curt,

    I agree that it’s wrong to chastise all developers, instead of clarifying who is doing the objectionable projects.

    And also, that people are often rewarded in proportion to the risk. And also, that entrepreneurs often don’t appreciate the risk of their investment. Or the true cost, including to the community and environment.

    As you know, I have been involved in the business support system in western Mass for years )including as your regular customer).

    I am one of many in the Amherst community asking to be better represented by the town government, and to have certain developers be more customer focused, aka community focused.

    There are not a ton of people actively complaining, but 900 people signed a strong request that the town leadership pause to take better aim, before it misfires.

    Be well, glad you read the Indy!


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