Opinion: Petition Seeks To Force Revote On Parking Lot Rezoning

Photo: flckr.com. Creative commons

The issue of whether Amherst needs another parking garage is debatable and has been debated for years.Studies commissioned by the town say that we don’t need more parking, including for predicted future growth downtown; and that there are several measures the town can take to increase the number of spots, or better indicate where the spots are located. We have certainly not taken those steps yet, but a big push from two town councilors (who were not re-elected) resulted in the adoption of an “overlay district” in the residentially-zoned town-owned lot adjacent to the historic neighborhood on North Pleasant Street, and across from the CVS lot which would permit the construction of a four story parking garage there.

There is a petition circulating that you can sign, that calls for re-consideration of the vote taken by the Town Council on December  20.  If the petition is signed by 5% of Amherst’s registered voters by Monday, January 3, it will require a revote on the overlay zoning by the new council. Six of the 13 councilors will be newly elected to the council, and if five or more councilors vote against the rezoning, there would be room for a deeper exploration of our need for parking, and of alternative possible locations for a garage, if there truly is a need for a garage.

Please see this webpage for more information including copies of the petition, which you can print out (double sided, both sides topside up), sign (full signature and printed name, address with no abbreviations), and return to several addresses around town (noted in the webpage). It also lists several address around town where you can sign petitions or drop of petitions that you have filled out.  If would be great if you can get a few more signatures from friends and neighbors, and bring to one of the addresses listed on that webpage, by early Sunday night.

Your neighbors who are encouraging this re-consideration are not NIMBY’s or anti-business. They love Amherst and want better planning before more zoning errors are made. They think that the garage proposal is a big decision, and the wrong way to decide is to tell the planning department to only consider this one site, and never mind about the parking studies.

We hope for this petition to be a tool for effective government and community conversation.

Please sign, to give the new town council the opportunity to get this right.

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.

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16 thoughts on “Opinion: Petition Seeks To Force Revote On Parking Lot Rezoning

  1. Thanks, Ira, for pointing out that those supporting this Voter Veto Petition and reconsideration of this re-zoning are not anti-business. Amherst’s BID was being organized when the late Professor Michael Wolff and I were Library Trustees. The organizers were short the percentage of downtown businesses and other establishments required in order to start the BID. Michael Wolff and I then got through committee, and through the Library Board, the Trustees’ decision for the Jones Library to become a member of the BID. Professor Wolff knew those promoting the BID as experienced and honorable. I wanted to weave the Library more closely into the life of the Town. Amherst’s downtown was more vibrant then, with many businesses that since have disappeared. I oppose this re-zoning out of concern that it could result in the disappearance of our downtown CVS, as well.

    Excavation and construction for a 4-story garage on the Town’s parking lot would require temporary construction easements on land of both the CVS and St. Bridget’s Church. This is because the Town lot is narrow. A garage would require space for the necessary ramps from floor to floor. So it would have to be built to the lot lines, with no setback on either side. Any such easement by CVS would eliminate some half of the parking spaces on the CVS lot, for however long the construction took. That lot is almost always full. Yet there is apparently a serious question of whether the CVS would be viable with some half of its parking gone. If the CVS closes, this would be a substantial hardship for the many seniors who live downtown and walk to the CVS for both groceries and medications. It would be a nuisance for those who live in Amherst or north of Amherst, and who come into our downtown CVS frequently for prescriptions and non-prescription medical needs. We would have to go further, instead, to the CVS on University Drive or, perhaps, to the malls. For Town Council to have voted on this re-zoning, without having investigated how it could affect this essential downtown anchor, is mind-boggling.

    Does today’s BID see downtown Amherst as a destination for occasional visitors from Boston and other places, even while it becomes less and less a destination for those of us who live here? That’s a defensible point of view. In any event, it’s important that the new Town Council reconsider this re-zoning. If you agree, please sign the Voter Veto Petition ASAP. (Please see Ira Bryck’s article for downloadable Petitions & instructions). These must be filed before close of business on Monday, 3 January. So time is of the essence. Thanks for considering this, and a happy 2022.

  2. Honestly, there’s a good local alternative to corporate America: Amherst Pharmacy at 381 College Street, next to Florence Bank and Wilburn Chiropractic. John, the owner, will greet you by name — he remembers and cares about his customers. For fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, dosa batter, tofu, frozen chicken feet, shrimp, dumplings, soap, etc., go to Mom’s House and Neighbors across the street. (A crosswalk is needed.)

  3. Here’s another idea: Could the BID / Chamber / PVTA work out a route for a small bus/ trolley (is there a year round trolley?) that continuously transported people from downtown to the village centers? One could park in any village center and get free transportation downtown. Good for families with old-enough children to get around, might encourage business in the village centers, people could drive to their village center and not all the way to town? Who could study this idea? Pioneer Valley Planning Commission? Might it be good for them to know if this could work in other towns around here?

  4. Hi, Kitty, Agreed that Amherst Pharmacy and Neighbors (the Indian grocery & everything store) east of downtown on Route 9, just before you reach the Cumberland Farms intersection, are great, non-corporate resources. You inspire me to investigate Mom’s House!

    These are nonetheless far more than walking distance from the Anne Whalen Apartments, Clark House, and the rest of downtown if you are ill or less than physically fit, especially if you must schlep all your groceries back on foot. Also, the terrain between downtown & that friendly shopping area is not flat. The bus from downtown does run by there. But not so very frequently, especially when the colleges and university are out. Also, the last time I took the bus downtown from further east than there, you needed a smartphone to see when the next bus was supposed to come. Not all of us use smartphones.

    So I really like combining your idea with Ira’s, also above, for regular small bus/trolley service between downtown and the village centers!

  5. I agree with Rob Kusner, that if CVS is to close 900 stores over the next 3 years, they may notice that we have 2 stores pretty close to each other. I don’t know which is the better store for them, but I’ve heard local guesses that the downtown store does more business. I wonder if it would be helpful for Amherst fans of the downtown store to make their case why that store should not close.

  6. As a former Amherst “Senior Surrey” driver working to supplement my single mom income to support myself and (then) two little boys, I reveled in the company of those “of a certain age” whom I happily shuttled to and from scheduled appointments, shopping errands and social outings. The weekly “hill town routes” were particularly rewarding as I listened to the local histories of days gone by, indulged in the cinnamon rolls of Mrs Carey (I still have have her written recipe) and, at the end of the day, Mrs G’s homemade blueberry wine.
    All the while, I added to to the support of my family while honoring those of the
    ones before me, and contributed to those before me.
    Why does progress have to erase the value of what came before? Perhaps old can be new, but different. A good friend once said, and many areas of the world have seen, it that way. My point is that progress does not have to be something not done before, but only adapted to now.
    Our world is changing too fast to, otherwise, allow us to hold on to the ideals that allowed us to reach today.
    Support local, even if it costs a bit more. Scale back on pennies and convenience if needed to do for the common good. Think outside your box and the temptation of easier as a substitute for better. Don’t drink the cool -aide. And, worse case, remember that all politics are local.

    Rita Burke

  7. Ira’s suggestion about trolley/bus service is worth expanding upon. Linking village centers is a good idea, but still only accessible to those who live very close or can drive to one of the centers. Perhaps looking at the high density areas where people live, especially those who must rely on public transportation to meet their basic needs, could inform what those routes could be. The reparations report presented to Town Council in the spring of 2021 (that used to be accessible in the Document Center but I wasn’t able to find it today) included a very compelling section on the impact of inadequate transportation on racial inequities. Lack of transportation impacts both people and businesses.

  8. Thanks to Anita for calling attention to the report and to Jeff for posting the link.

    A lot of work was done by the Amherst Public Transportation Committee starting around 25 years ago to expand year-round transit to needed public services (like the creation of the Amity Shuttle which linked Amherst Center with the larger food markets and medical services along U Drive). But a lot more needs to be done, for instance direct transit service to Cooley Dickinson Hospital from Amherst is an interesting idea (suggested – at least implicitly in the report).

    Thanks also to Ira and others for resurrecting the shuttle idea in connection with village centers and remote parking: when Art Swift and I led the Amherst Public Transportation Committee in the 1990s, we explored that idea with the PVTA, but it never came to pass.

    And public transit connections to more distant locations like HCC, train stations (Noho, Holyoke, Greenfield, Springfield – and perhaps someday Palmer) would offer the potential to conveniently get to and from a place like Amherst without a car: most of the world considers that level of public transit service “normal”!

  9. Rob: the PVTA has introduced other connecting routes in recent years, including the route from Amherst to Worcester that started this past fall.
    Re: more local service, the PVTA’s R29 bus runs from UMass Amherst and downtown Amherst along Route 116 to Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and then to the Holyoke Transportation Center in downtown Holyoke, and to Providence Hospital, and the Holyoke Mall.
    The B43 takes riders from Amherst to downtown Northampton (& the Amtrak stations in Noho) and from there the R41 connects to Easthampton, HCC, and yup, the Holyoke Mall again.
    To go to downtown Greenfield and the train station there, one can take the most northern UMass Transit route (to S. Deerfield) and then transfer to the FRTA bus to Greenfield, or take the Amtrak or the FRTA bus from Northampton. Unfortunately, the Amtrak service north of Springfield and some of the bus routes only run a few times a day, or weekdays only. Some of the routes also take a long time. Years ago, the GMTA ran a bus route from UMass to/from downtown Greenfield. The route went through Montague and I realized that the route took longer than it would for me to bike directly to Greenfield, and I’m not even a fast bicyclist. sigh.

  10. Thanks, Tracy – I didn’t know about a new PVTA bus route between Amherst and Worcester! Unless it’s an “express”bus, it may be hard to make it attractive enough to compete with private cars (as you point out for some other routes). And those other “non-express” routes which require transfers pose even greater challenges, especially if the “connections” are not guaranteed.

    Many of my colleagues once rode the M40 “express” between UMassAmherst and Noho, but switched to cycling following its demise. I don’t know if there’s enough demand for a bus to CDH (or even further to the VA hospital) from Amherst, I mentioned that since it was hinted at the below-mentioned report, but maybe if something like the M40 “express” were ever resurrected, it would make sense to include those destinations?

    Of course, in the presently perilous pandemic times, the whole concept of public transit may need to be re-thought, and I hope someone is serious thinking is underway….

  11. P.S. I mentioned the Greenfield train station not only for those train riders heading north on AMTRAK’s Vermonter (maybe someday it will again be the Montrealer?!) but also because MBTA commuter rail service from there east to Boston is also being contemplated (there’s already regular MBTA service from just west of Fitchburg, and again I wonder whether enough demand might exist for a shuttle bus between there and Amherst – that rail line goes in to Boston’s North Station, but there’s a decent connection to the Red Line at Porter – I enjoyed the walk from Porter to “The WGU” the last time I took that train, but I had to drive from Amherst that “just west of Fitchburg” station…),

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