The following letter was sent to the Community Resources Committee, Town Council, Planning Board, Town Manager, and Planning Department on November 9, 2021
I urge you to not make changes to zoning bylaws about parking and mixed use buildings that will adversely affect our central business district for generations to come.
Specifically, please consider:
- Do we need an additional parking garage downtown? Studies the town has commissioned say No, instead suggesting ways to maximize the parking spaces we already have. Let’s follow those suggestions, before you build a garage that will imperil the historic residential district on North Prospect Street. If we do eventually build a garage, let’s study the best location, including Boltwood Walk (which was supposed to be expandable); or across from the Jones Library (the location most people agree would work best). And why rezone that lot (even if via an overlay), before you even have a plan and public buy-in? And why risk our town councilors so quickly breaking their promise, that it would never lead to more than a 3 story garage (even as those “promising” councilors are now hinting at 5 stories)?
- Do not create a new zoning bylaw that would define “mixed use” as anything but. A building that is only 30% non-residential on the first floor, where “non-residential” areas can be mechanicals, hallways, and much other than retail, restaurants, and offices. And to allow that paltry 30% to be spread around the building, or averaged among multiple buildings, seems to be a deception, more about sidestepping requirements than complying with the public will and needs. It would be lovely if the planning board, planning department, and town council seemed more like the honest brokers our town requires.
- Do not make any major decisions, before the six new councilors are sworn in, come January. During this lame duck period, please take a pause and reflect on what you really want to achieve. Do not change the zoning in a way the public has clearly indicated they do not want. They have indicated this at the voting booth- as well as in overwhelming public sentiment (ie: only 30 people signed the anti-moratorium petition – several of them with vested interests).
I urge you to wait and think and not make major unfixable changes that will turn downtown Amherst into the failure we see in several college towns that should be better studied. Our community deserves and demands more of you.
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 seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.