CRC Discusses Zoning Priorities

0 Creative Commons

Report On The Meeting of the Community Resources Committee, March 31, 2022

Mandy Jo Hanneke (Chair, at large), Pam Rooney (District 4), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5), and Pat DeAngelis (District 2)

Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Dave Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager), Rob Morra (Building Commissioner), and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Zoning Priorities Matrix
Community Resources Committee (CRC) Chair Mandy Jo Hanneke (at large) and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) developed a matrix of suggested zoning changes and their impacts which will form the basis for discussion in the future. Hanneke noted that the Planning Department will probably not have time to work on many of these changes until July, due to other pressing matters. The matrix evaluates the impact of each suggested zoning change on the town goals for climate action, social justice and equity, affordable housing, economic development, and the comprehensive housing policy (CHP) developed by the CRC last year and passed by the council.

During the meeting, CRC members discussed how each of the suggested zoning changes would impact the town goals, although the committee decided to look at the Comprehensive Housing Policy goals at a future meeting. Planning Director Chris Brestrup presented several strategies that she thought would help the town achieve the goals of the CHP to increase available housing in town. She suggested:

  1. Creating tiers for apartment building sizes, so those with only three or four units could obtain approval by right (site plan review) (SPR), rather than requiring a special permit (SP) in residential districts. 
  2. Differentiate between apartment buildings with less than and more than 24 units and create different permitting according to the zoning district.
  3. Allow small apartment and townhouse complexes to be approved by SPR in certain districts.
  4. Allow owner-occupied duplexes to be built by SPR in more districts
  5. Reduce the required lot sizes in the Neighborhood Residential (RN), Outlying Residential (RO), and Low Density Residential (R-LD) zones to permit more density of housing.
  6. Consider using Chapter 40R (Smart Growth) for development outside of downtown, such as the East Village Center. Brestrup said that the Planning Department was not comfortable with applying Chapter 40R to the downtown area, but it might make sense in the village centers. Chapter 40R allows greater density of housing, but requires that 20 to 25% of units be affordable. This initiative would require an outside expert to develop.
  7. Allow cottage developments, with several small houses on small lots or on a shared lot.
  8. Permitting more than four unrelated people to live together. Brestrup said the state is considering a new “use” category to treat congregate living situations more like hotels, with stricter health and safety standards and more regulations than are currently required of rental housing. 
  9. Expand the Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw to include standard and cluster subdivisions.

Brestrup added that she has heard from landowners that it is hard to create developments in Professional Research Park (PRP) zones due to current zoning regulations. She thought that the town might consider more flexible guidelines for the PRP zones, such as allowing some housing or mixed-used buildings.

Although these suggestions will be discussed at future meetings, Jennifer Taub (District 3) noted that much of the development now occurring in town creates units that rent at a high cost. Brestrup pointed out that, with the town’s Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw, most developments going forward will include a few affordable units, since all projects with more than 10 units must have 12% affordable. 

ZBA And Planning Board Appointments This Spring
With pending vacancies on the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board looming on June 30, the CRC is preparing to conduct interviews this spring. Hanneke pointed out the information distributed to applicants for each position last year and asked for feedback from CRC members. Bahl-Milne suggested that the information sheet put the function of the boards at the top, but had no suggestions for change in the content. The handouts will also be reviewed by the Planning Department and by the chairs of the ZBA and Planning Board, with feedback requested in April.

Residential Rental Bylaw
Hanneke worked out a schedule for development of a new residential rental bylaw, so the CRC will hopefully be ready to present to the full Council by December. The matter will be discussed at almost every CRC meeting until then.

Three sponsors of the proposed changes (Hanneke, Taub, and District 4’s Pam Rooney) are members of the CRC, but the committee decided to let the fourth sponsor, Michele Miller (District 1), contribute to the discussions as well.

Hanneke also suggested that the CRC may want to employ the Community Click and Small Town means of community participation being developed by a team at UMass for these discussions. Bahl-Milne said that Community Click allows the public to give real-time feedback anonymously. It was used at one Town Services and Outreach meeting last year. Taub was uncomfortable with the input being anonymous, since the committee would not know of any conflict of interests that might exist for the commenter, though Hanneke said there could be some screening questions that people would need to answer before offering input.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra suggested that managers of large apartment complexes be included in discussions of the rental bylaw, and Pat DeAngelis (District 2) wanted to include Code Enforcement Officer John Thompson. The Residential Rental Bylaw proposal will next be discussed at the April 28 CRC meeting.

What Is The Status Of The Master Plan Implementation Committee?
In public comment, Kitty Axelson-Berry noted that she thought the CRC had been tasked with developing a Master Plan Implementation Committee as outlined in the Master Plan approved by the council in 2020. She asked if any steps had been taken to create this committee. She also suggested that development of housing be concentrated in the village centers, rather than focussed narrowly on downtown Amherst, and that a study group be created to explore how other college towns are addressing rental housing, development, and other student-related issues. 

The next CRC meeting is scheduled for April 14, when the committee will hold a public forum on rescinding Article 13 of the Zoning Bylaw (Demolition Delay) and discuss the proposed Preservation of Historic Structures bylaw which will be part of the General Bylaw.

For more information on how zoning works in Amherst, see our Zoning Primer.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.