Report On The Meeting Of the Planning Board, October 6, 2021
The meeting took place over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.
Planning Board members: Doug Marshall (Chair), Jack Jemsek, Maria Chao, Thom Long, Andrew MacDougall, Janet McGowan, and Johanna Neumann. Planning Staff: Chris Brestrup, Nate Malloy, Building Commissioner Rob Morra, and Assistant Pam Field-Sadler
- Planning Department presents plan to create a Parking Facility Overlay Zone for the town-owned parking lot behind CVS
- Plan to address three Open Meeting Law complaints regarding missing minutes
Overlay Zoning District For A Parking Garage
The hearing on rezoning of the town lot behind CVS in order to permit the construction of a parking garage was continued from August 24 and September 29. Because of concerns from the public, Planning Board, and Community Resources Committee (CRC) about changing the zoning of the parcel from general residence (RG) to general business (BG), the Planning Department has proposed an overlay zone, for this parcel only, for a parking garage. Any other use proposed for the parcel would need to conform to the regular RG zoning.
Planner Nate Malloy gave the presentation, which is on pages 10-15 of the packet. Building Commissioner Rob Morra and Evan Ross (District 4, co-sponsor, along with District 3 Town Councilor George Ryan, of the rezoning proposal) were in attendance to answer questions. Malloy said that the parcel behind CVS has been identified as a likely site for a parking garage since 1977 and that the town purchased the land in 1989 expressly for parking. He said that the new parking garage in Greenfield is about the same size as the proposed structure in Amherst: It is four stories, 48 to 53 feet in height, with 272 spaces. It is a modular building, so it was relatively inexpensive to construct. The current municipal lot in Amherst has 70 spaces.
Planning Board member Jack Jemsek asked for clarity about the size of the proposed garage. He worried that a five-story building could be built at the site. Malloy said that the parking overlay zone allows the town to set specific conditions for use of that parcel. The Planning Department recommended a 15-foot buffer from North Prospect Street, and 5 feet from abutting residential buildings. No setback would be required at the rear or the sides of the building. The maximum height could be 40 feet and maximum lot coverage 90%. Any structure would need approval from the Planning Board. The Planning Board could refer the design to the Design Review Board for approval.
Suggested Standards And Conditions For A Garage
The Planning Department has suggested that the following conditions be applied to the overlay zone and be required of any proposal to construct a parking garage on the site.
- Be compatible with the adjacent neighborhood and downtownp
- Minimize the visibility of cars parked inside (also minimize headlight glare)
- Minimize curb cuts and disruption of sidewalk. Allow space for one car to wait to exit without blocking sidewalk
- Plant screening plantings on the street side that are at least one story high when they are planted
- Create accessible sidewalks for pedestrians
- Ensure adequate lighting that is dark-sky compliant
- Create signs that comply with Article 8 of the Zoning Bylaw, except for one directing traffic which could be 100 square feet. ( Only 12 square feet is allowed for signs in the RG zone.)
- Require a parking management and maintenance plan at the time of application
- Specify how many long-term and short-term spaces will be provided
- Submit a plan for parking enforcement, snow removal, trash removal, and rainwater management
- Sustainability will be developed as a separate condition.
Planning Director Chris Brestrup noted that the above conditions would need to be formatted to conform with the zoning bylaw before they could be adopted.
Andrew MacDougall wondered if a 40-foot high structure would be visible from North Pleasant Street. He also thought making North Prospect Street two-way and eliminating on-street parking would improve access and egress from a garage. Malloy said that traffic was not addressed in the overlay proposal and that any change in traffic patterns would require a traffic study. Malloy also noted that the 13-foot entryway off North Pleasant between CVS and Miss Saigon is a permanent easement. Jemsek and Thom Long also thought two-way traffic on North Prospect would be beneficial.
Janet McGowan argued for side and rear setbacks for the benefit of adjacent landowners. She was also concerned about noise for the residents of North Prospect, especially when patrons come out of the futureDrake bar and music venue, and other nearby bars, at 1 a.m., talking loudly and slamming car doors.
Maria Chao said it seemed like the Planning Board was “getting into the weeds.” The town needs a flexible plan to optimize the size of the parking structure to satisfy “the great need for parking.” An increase in setbacks would decrease the potential size of the garage. She added that the overlay zone means there is zero risk of anything other than a parking garage being built on the site.
Johanna Neumann said the title of the public hearing is misleading, since it refers to changing the parcel to the BG (general business) zone and does not mention the overlay proposal. She also suggested making the entryway off North Pleasant Street only for pedestrians.
Doug Marshall wondered if there would be an opportunity for the owner of the CVS lot to partner with the developer of the parking garage to permit construction of a larger parking garage. Morra pointed out that anything built on the CVS lot would be subject to the restrictions of the RG zone. This proposal only concerns the municipal lot. Brestrup said that no one from the Planning Department has contacted the abutters, CVS, or St. Brigid’s because the original proposal did not originate from the Planning Department. (It originated from the town council.) She said she would ask the town manager about contacting them. MacDougall noted that St. Brigid’s makes heavy use of its portion of the lot at various times.
Ross said that he and Ryan began formulating the plan for a parking garage after the Business Improvement District’s “Destination Amherst” presentation in February 2020. He commended the Planning Department for responding to concerns and making the proposal much better.
Rani Parker said she lives across from the exit from the CVS lot, and lights from cars shine into her house. She wondered if the garage would have its own entrance and exit. She said screening is totally necessary. She added that she was impressed with the responsiveness of the town Planning Department to concerns of the neighborhood.
Pam Rooney noted that with angled parking, there can be 55-foot lanes instead of 60-foot, so maybe the building could be smaller, so as to allow side setbacks. She worried about allowing long-term parking there, and reminded the board that the ostensible reason for the garage is for destination parking for visitors to downtown.
Suzannah Muspratt was concerned about the allowable height. She heard Ryan say that there would be “no more than three stories, including a roof deck,” but a 40-foot high building could accommodate five stories. Malloy replied that the limit in the RG zone is three stories or 40 feet, and the Planning Department thought the proposed dimensions would be consistent with that.
Brestrup had noted that the Spring Street mixed-use building has no setback, but Councilor Dorothy Pam (District 3) chided her for using that development as an example, and that the suggestions from the Design Review Board were ignored for that project, which made people lose faith in the planning process.
Brestrup said the CRC is holding another public hearing on this overlay proposal on October 26 at 2 p.m., but they have 90 days after that hearing to present it to the full council. She suggested that the Planning Board continue its discussion on October 20 at 7 p.m.
All Planning Board members were generally in favor of the overlay zone. McGowan suggested adding electric vehicle chargers and more stringent design guidelines to the standards. Marshall said the town could get into more specifics when it issues a request for proposals.
Steps Taken To Respond To Open Meeting Complaints
Over the past two weeks, the Planning Board has received three open meeting complaints due to missing minutes. Minutes from 17 meetings in 2021 are not available. Due to the town council’s push to approve zoning amendments, the Planning Board has met much more frequently than usual and the Planning Department has been busier than usual working on the proposed amendments.
Brestrup reported that she has been given permission to hire someone to produce minutes from some of the recordings. Brestrup is working on the six-hour public hearing from July 21, and Pam Field-Sadler is doing the other long hearing from May 19. Planning Board members have each volunteered to write minutes from recordings of the meeting. Chao is taking minutes at meetings until the department is caught up.
Minutes from the September 29 meeting were approved at the beginning of this meeting. Draft minutes will be posted on the Planning Board site. Hopefully, all drafts will be completed by the end of the month, so they can be approved. Brestrup will follow up with the complainants and the attorney general regarding the plan to complete the minutes.
Marshall said he is eager to move past this matter.
The meeting adjourned at 8:54. The Planning Board will next meet on October 20 at 6:30 p.m.