It’s time for The Pause That Refreshes. Not a cold glass of Coca-Cola this winter day. Rather, a refreshing decision by the Amherst Town Council not to approve the zoning change for a new garage on Monday evening.
It’s time to celebrate the achievements of the Council’s first three-plus years, and turn the question of the garage over to the newly-elected Council taking office in just two weeks. Amherst voters have refreshed the Council; six of the thirteen members will be new. Rather than imposing this controversial decision on them (and the rest of us), let the new Council approach the question in the right way.
What’s the right way? Planning first, zoning after. Not the inverted process that has consumed Council meetings and frustrated so many Amherst residents these last weeks.
After all, here’s what we know. The Nelson/Nygaard consultants, paid a hefty fee to study the Town’s parking needs, said “Amherst actually has a surplus of 1,200 spaces at peak demand”. The Town’s Downtown Parkiing Working Group did not find that a new garage was needed. The available parking on the present North Prospect Street lot, where the new garage would go, is never fully used. And the Planning Board, the official body in Amherst that’s supposed to study and recommend this sort of thing, has said on the record that they were never asked about any site other than the one up for a vote on Monday, that “looking at other sites is not what [the Town’s planners] were asked to do”.
And there are other sites. We all know where they are. Would any of them be better? I think so. I’m a former Amherst Cinema Board Chair and would like to see any new garage placed on the Amity Street lot right next to it. But that’s not the only place to consider.
And by the way, a “Yes” vote by the Council on Monday will not bring us a garage on North Prospect Street for many years. It happens to be the location for the staging of the Jones Library renovation, whose construction has not yet even been scheduled.
So, old Town Council, vote “No” and let the Town’s planners do their job. And then if a zoning change is needed, let the evidence show the new Town Council the way. That would be a refreshing way to end the old and begin the new.
Ken Rosenthal lives on Sunset Avenue in Amherst. He was Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals and of the former Development and Industrial Commission, and was a member of the Select Committee on Goals for Amherst.