Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, July 20,2022
Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Thom Long, Andrew MacDougall, Janet McGowan. Absent Karin Winter and Johanna Neumann
Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Maureen Pollock, Nate Malloy (Planners), Pam Field Sadler (Assistant)
There were nine participants in the public audience
Zoning Amendment: Planning Department Recommends Making Permanent Certain Provisions of Article 14: Temporary Measures Started During The Covid Pandemic
Maureen Pollock of the Planning Department said that the expedited permitting of certain businesses during the pandemic (Article 14) has worked well, and the Planning Department would like to make some of the changes permanent. As written now, Article 14 would expire on December 31, 2022 (See pages 19-25 of meeting packet).
Pollock said she received favorable comments from the Community Resources Committee (CRC) and the Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce. The proposed changes would allow administrative approval by the Building Commissioner of small restaurants with capacities of 20-30 people that do not plan remodeling of the exterior of the building. The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Planning Department would agree on the conditions these restaurants would need to meet to obtain expedited approval.
Other changes would include more precise definitions of restaurant, bar, and night club according to hours of operation, whether alcohol is served, and proximity to residential areas. In the existing Zoning Bylaw, Class I establishments are restaurants, lunch rooms, cafes, etc. and are approved by Site Plan Review. Class II establishments are restaurants and bars with extended hours that are approved by Special Permit. Class III are drive-up restaurants only allowed in Commercial districts by Special Permit.
The new proposal suggests re-classifying establishments on the basis of intensity of use, queueing, noise level, and impact on surrounding areas. The suggested new classification is:
1. Restaurants, bars, and cafes serving food during all hours of operation. A special category would be small establishments seating 20 to 30 patrons.
2. Bars not serving food, but allowing patrons to bring in food
3. Night Clubs
4. Any establishment with a capacity of over 250.
Restaurants would be approved by Site Plan Review, except possibly for small establishments, which could be approved by the Building Commissioner. Bars and nightclubs would require a Special Permit. Business owners can now apply on-line for permits at https://www.amherstma.gov/491/Application-Forms .
In addition to the above classifications, the Planning Department wants to include accessory uses, such as outdoor dining and outdoor entertainment. The CRC also wants to create a pathway for temporary use, such as holding a wedding on a farm, but that is not part of the current effort. The Planning Department would like to craft a new zoning amendment by late September, so it could be passed before Article 14 expires. Pollock encouraged Planning Board members to submit comments over the next month. The department will also solicit feedback from business owners.
Planning Board member Janet McGowan wanted to see the list of conditions required for administrative permitting. Chair Doug Marshall wanted a more extensive review of permitting if alcohol was served at the establishment.
In public comment, Hilda Greenbaum felt that a capacity of over 250 was too high for village centers, such as North Amherst or Pomeroy. She felt that any proposed establishment of over a capacity of 100 should have a public hearing and review.
Mooring Says That Roads In The Meadows Are Close To Being Completed
On June 15, residents of the Meadows subdivision on Hopbrook and Kestrel Lanes came before the Planning Board to complain that, although the subdivision was finished over 20 years prior, a few incomplete tasks on the roads have prevented the town from accepting them as town roads. Residents expressed frustration that they met with developer Ted Parker of Tofino Associates in 2021, but no action was taken.
Superintendent of Public Works Guilford Mooring said there are only three items left to be completed on the roads, the most important being a survey, before the matter can be brought before the Town Council for acceptance of the roads. He thought the work could be completed by fall. He also said that the residents should submit a request to the council, which would need to be acted on by the Planning Board within 45 days.
The residents, represented by Attorney Felicity Hardee and Homeowners’ Association President Doug Donnell and Board member Connie Kruger, were not aware that they needed to submit a letter to the council. They complained of a lack of communication on several levels.
Hardee, McGowan, and Bruce Coldham mentioned the fact that the $10,000 surety per lot for the roads was only collected for two of the lots. Collection for the other lots “fell through the cracks” in the Planning Department, according to Planning Director Chris Brestrup. McGowan suggested having a checklist for subdivisions so this situation does not happen again.
The Planning Board will make a site visit and hold a public hearing after the residents’ letter is received by the council.
Request For Proposals For Design Standards For Downtown
Planner Nate Malloy has incorporated comments from the public and the Planning Department to formulate a Request for Proposals (RFP) for establishing design standards for the downtown. He plans to bring the completed RFP to the August 17 Planning Board meeting in order to hire a consultant by September or October. He expects the process of creating the standards to take 18 to 24 months, and that planning staff will assist with data collection.
Brestrup said she is consulting with Building Commissioner Rob Morra about arranging for a structural analysis of the Boltwood garage to determine if it can support additional floors for parking.
Election of Planning Board officers will be held during the September 7 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:53 p.m. The Planning Board will next meet on August 3.