Editor’s note: We received two pieces of correspondence from Jay Silverstein this week; a letter to the Town Council and Planning Board in advance of the Planning Board’s hearing on rezoning the lot behind CVS for a parking garage, and a reaction to the way that the planning board received public comment at that meeting. Because of space limitations this week, we have provided both letters here in succession in a single posting.
The following letter was sent to the Planning Department, The Town Council and the Town Manager on October 19, 2021.
As of October 2021, the total available parking spaces on North Prospect Street, Hallock Street and the municipal side of the CVS parking lot is – 132 spaces.
North Prospect Street Hallock Street
Corner amity street 5 meters # 39 4 spaces
# 18 4 spaces #21-31 10 spaces
#32 4 spaces #15-17 3 spaces
#38 6 spaces Corner 4 meters
#58 3 spaces 21 spaces
#62 4 spaces
#74 6 spaces
#82 4 spaces
As shown on the parking facility overlay figures, the present parking lot on the municipal side of the CVS parking lot has 75 spaces. (see Planning Board packet for October 6, 2021 pages 10-15).
The “Parking Facility Overlay Plan” for North Prospect Street indicates a garage with five levels. This is inconsistent with the Ross and Ryan plan of no more than three levels, if of course they are earnest. Also, since referencing the Greenfield parking structure, it should be known that the Greenfield primary entrance is not on a residential street and the setbacks are larger in Greenfield than what is proposed in Amherst, where the exit to the lot will be located on a narrow residential street.
What is still in question is the actual need for an expensive parking structure since there is always street parking available as well as ample municipal/CVS parking. At present there are 132 parking spaces available on North Prospect Street, Hallock Street and in the municipal side of the CVS parking area. With the advent of the new parking structure, according to the Ross/Ryan plan, at 65 spaces per level, three levels would give us 195 parking spaces. It is being proposed that North Prospect Street and Hallock Street be converted to two-way traffic. According to Planning Board members Andrew MacDougall, Jack Jemsek, and Thom Long, this will require eliminating existing parking spaces to make way for two-way traffic. Planning Board member Johanna Neumann suggested that the present entrance to the lot on North Pleasant Street be converted for pedestrian use only.
The proposed structure apparently offers a net gain of 63 parking spaces and as we know, there has not been any due diligence for this project. There are 13 parking spaces on Cowles Lane which is a narrow two-way street and with inclement weather, Cowles Lane becomes difficult to navigate. Furthermore, with the additional traffic from the parking structure, these parking spaces may be eliminated as well, leaving a net gain of only 50 parking spaces.
What is not being considered are the wishes of the majority of residents on North Prospect Street and Hallock Streets as well as definitive research into possible traffic congestion and whether we actually need additional parking spaces?
The proposal of the parking structure is based on suggestion and assumption rather than certainty. I have worked in industry for over 40 years and realize that only in the government sector can a project like this be considered before any facts are given. On a personal note, I purchased my residence in Amherst in June 2019 and immediately started renovations. I had the pleasure of working with a lot of Amherst Departments. Everyone I had dealings with was competent and professional. I had to cross my t’s and dot my i’s. At times it was exhausting but I realized and appreciated that the people had a job to do and a renovation/permit formula was adhered to. In the end we all benefitted. I would like to see that professionalism again. It should be mandatory to have documentation of due diligence from the Amherst Planning Board and Councilors George Ryan and Evan Ross, before any zoning changes can be made. What must be addressed additionally is how in good conscience, can the Town of Amherst approve a zoning change without performing due diligence! This unattractive parking structure is slated to be built directly across the street from many stately, grand Victorian homes that grant character to the Town of Amherst. Before changing the zoning, shouldn’t the Town of Amherst practice what they preach and get documentation before approvals are issued? I wonder if the Town of Amherst should and will inform the National Registry of Historic Places of the proximity of the parking structure to these houses. I don’t like jumping into a fire on blind faith.
I thank the Amherst Planning Board for giving me the opportunity to voice my opinion against the proposed North Prospect Street Parking Structure. It was eye-opening to see how the Planning Board operates, especially under the auspices of an impersonal Zoom setting.
To my knowledge, the Ross/Ryan proposal was for a 3-level parking garage having 65 parking spaces per level. Under the guidance of Nate Malloy and agreed upon by the Amherst Planning Board, this monolith now has the possibility of two subsurface levels and three above-ground levels (with the possibility of a solar system for an additional 12 feet in height) for a structure 48 feet high in a residential area.
As soon as the Planning Board members et al. were introduced, it seemed there was a complete lack of enthusiasm by them. Also when the topic of the parking structure was broached, it seemed like most of the Planning Board members showed disinterest.
I wasn’t impressed with Mr. [Thom] Long’s chuckle when the noise level of the garage was referenced and he said something to the effect that “it’s a garage and they are noisy.” This shows that he has not been there because the present parking lot is always at least half empty and there is very little noise. I doubt if Mr. Long lives across the street from a garage!
Ms. Chao’s attitude from the beginning was, let’s approve this and move on. To me this shows little interest in the wishes of the people affected by the garage.
Mr. Jemsek’s reasoning that it’s needed because of the perception of no parking in the area, is ludicrous. Of course, it’s probably the fact that there is no advertising for parking and only one parking sign which is on a small residential street located 15 feet before the North Prospect Street entrance into the CVS parking area.
I would like to thank Mr. Marshall for seeming impartial and of course Ms. McGowan for her caring and professionalism. It seems that the Planning Board repudiated Ms. McGowan’s new, alternative proposals in order to proceed with the vote, although they gave Mr. Malloy weeks to rework and prepare his scheme.
Also of note is that all the opinions voiced by the public were against the garage proposal. Since these hearings started, the only pro-garage voices were entities having self-interest, consequently this proposal was rushed to pass by the Planning Board without due diligence — and with the only studies that we have stating that there is no need for a parking garage. This gives me the feeling of impropriety and subsequently, I will request that Ms. Maura Healey, Massachusetts Attorney General to look into this situation.
Of course, the proposed garage was approved by the Planning Board this evening (October 20, 2021) to go forward to the Community Resources Committee, even though there was no due diligence and no documentation stating a need for a new parking garage.
The Planning Board has opened a can of worms that is harmful to residential neighborhoods throughout Amherst. The nine residential houses in the immediate area of the proposed garage structure have at present a tax base in excess of $100K. Because residential real estate values will decrease by this monolith, I will seek 40 to 50% tax reduction on my residential tax bill and will urge my neighbors to follow suit. The Planning Board made it clear that their recommendations may or may not occur, but when selling one of the affected homes, a prospective buyer will view it as a clear and present reality.
Jay Silverstein is a resident of Amherst
Jay Silverstein is a resident of Amherst