Opinion: Reflections Of A Former Town Councilor. What A Difference A Year Makes For Two Zoning Proposals

Artists conception of scale of proposed garage facing North Prospect Street Homes. Drawing: Pamela Rooney

Darcy Dumont

If the two zoning amendments that passed at the December 20, 2021 Amherst Town Council meeting had been brought a year ago (amendments about creating a CVS parking facility overlay district and changing the definition of mixed use buildings), abutters could have brought a petition under state law (MGL Chapter 40A, Section 5) and then town councilors could have blocked it with four votes. Deregulation forces such as the Cato Institute are active both on the federal and state level, tweaking all sorts of laws for their profit, and Massachusetts is no exception to that rule. Our state zoning law was amended in January of 2021 to benefit developers. Not only does the amendment require more abutters to sign a petition protesting a change (50% instead of 20%),  but the vote needed to approve the change went from 3/4 to 2/3 of the legislative body (in Amherst that means from 10 in favor to 9 in favor). The former council could not have mustered 10 votes for the two zoning amendments had they been brought forward a year ago. Yes, just a year ago, such unpopular proposals could have been easily defeated by four votes to block them given an abutter petition.

And as for the recently failed voter veto petition to obtain a revote of the parking facility zoning decision, it is good to know that petitioners didn’t start gathering signatures until  five days before the 14-day deadline — and those five days included New Year’s eve and day, when many people were out of town.

“[The amazing turnout after a mere five days of signature gathering] is all the more reason for the council to fulfill its promise [and] put real effort into looking again at the need and the alternatives to a parking facility in the ‘CVS’ lot!”

And the amazing fact is that despite all of the barriers to collecting signatures, the organizers got almost 700 signatures (they needed 810) almost entirely by posting online. Those almost 700 people had to get into their cars and go somewhere to sign because, until the last day, organizers were not doing door to door canvassing. So in my mind, that was an amazing turnout for 5 days of gathering and residents having to put out effort to sign.

And mind you, had there been enough signatures, there WERE five votes to block the proposal had it been re-voted.

So, that is all the more reason for the council to fulfill its promise to put real effort into looking again at the need and the alternatives to a parking facility in the “CVS” lot!


Darcy DuMont formerly represented District 5 on the Amherst Town Council

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