The following written public comment was submitted to the Town Council for its October 4 meeting.
I support zoning that is clear and would clearly benefit the people of Amherst. So I’m asking Town Councilors to keep Special Permits (SP) for apartments in the Residential Village Centers (RVC). The Town requires SPs for non-owner-occupied duplexes and townhouses. There is sound reasoning in this provision.
The same level of careful review is needed for apartments, which can have many more units/building and many more buildings in an apartment complex. These projects are more complex, not simpler. It provides for requiring adjustments for special conditions on the proposal site or neighboring property like setbacks, fencing, screening, building size, number of occupants, exterior building design, signs and landscaping.
Keeping SP for Village Centers would allow the Zoning Board of Appeals to carefully adjust conditions for Community Impact Review areas: historical and cultural assets, economic, transportation, housing and land use, financial, environmental, sustainability, and social.
It is critical to adjust for unique features and functions of the Residential Village Center (RVC) districts and their settings. For example some abut Business Village Centers (BVC) and one abuts a Commercial (COM) zone.
North Amherst and East Village – are in unprotected National Register Districts (See attached maps).
North Amherst, Pomeroy and East Village all are next to lively village business districts that residents rely on for daily needs. The continued viability of these important services needs to be ensured.
North Amherst Village is also an important civic center with iconic historic buildings like the 1820’s North Congregational church, the 1800 Black Walnut Inn and the North Amherst Library. The library is slated for a beautiful and much more functional upgrade funded by a very generous anonymous donor.
The conservation and recreation project at Hickory Ridge in Pomeroy Village is another example of the need for keeping SP to ensure compatibility with this major restoration.
The Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals requires a two/thirds vote except for certain circumstances.
Finally, this provision has to be seen in context and should not be separated from lifting the cap on the number of units in an apartment building, much less the other proposed zoning changes in parking reductions, max building lot coverage, max lot coverage, reductions in frontage, etc.
Councilors, residents and business owners cannot assess zoning changes proposed unless given the full picture.
I’ve attached maps to show differences in RVC zones.
Janet Keller is a resident of District One and a board member of the Amherst Community Land Trust.