Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, September 7,2022
This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. The Planning Board packet can be viewed here.
Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Janet McGowan, Karin Winter, Thom Long, Andrew MacDougall, and Johanna Neumann
Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Nate Malloy (Senior Planner), Rob Morra (Building Commissioner), and Pam Field-Sadler (Assistant)
Five members of the public attended. Marshall read their names at the start of the meeting.
Flood Plain Bylaw Changes Presented
In order for Amherst to participate in the federal flood insurance program, it must adopt flood plain maps approved by FEMA and add appropriate sections to the zoning bylaw. Flood plain maps were last approved in 1983, but now GIS mapping with one-foot contour lines give a more accurate delineation of areas at one percent risk of flooding each year (100-year flood risk). The new maps, developed with the help of AECOM Construction Engineering, have been available online since July, 2020 here.
The Planning Department drafted Article 16 to the zoning bylaw to create a flood plain overlay district. Minor changes are also recommended to Articles 2 and 3. These documents have received approval from FEMA, but the town is still waiting to hear if the FIRM (flood Insurance rate maps) have been accepted by FEMA. The new maps do not greatly decrease the number of properties in the flood zone (from 500 to 450), but, according to Planner Nate Malloy, the number of structures affected has been reduced from about 200 to 70.
Planning Director Chris Brestrup explained that any Amherst resident may purchase flood insurance, but those in the flood plain may be required to do so to obtain a mortgage. Also, property owners may be restricted in what they can build in the flood plain and will need approval from the Conservation Commission to make changes in their property. Flood insurance only covers the building and its contents. It does not cover damage to the land. According to the proposed Article 16 (Flood Plain Overlay District), the planning director would be the flood plain administrator and the building commissioner would be in charge of enforcement.
Brestrup said that some residents are concerned that the Tan Brood is not included on the FIRM maps, but she said that the Tan Brook does not have the one-mile watershed required by FEMA to be considered a flood plain. She added that the Conservation Committee is studying whether the Tan Brook should be protected as a perennial stream.
Because the town has not received approval of the FIRM maps from FEMA, the Planning Board opted to continue this discussion on September 21. The Community Resources Committee held a public hearing on the maps and bylaw changes on September 8.
Additional Parking Proposed For 51 Spaulding Street
Bruce Allen and Carol Albano requested a special permit to construct seven parking spaces at their Spaulding Street residence . Five spaces would be at the end of the driveway behind the house, and two would be adjacent to the street, near the front entrance. Albano received a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2007 to convert her single-family home into a duplex. However, because of excessive costs, most of the approved addition was never built. Instead, the house has a small studio apartment, and three out of the six bedrooms are rented out. These changes were approved by a previous building commissioner, despite not conforming to what was permitted.
Because of the number of people residing at the house, neighbors have complained that excess cars often park on the narrow street, sometimes blocking a neighbor’s access to her handicap ramp. The new parking plan is intended to allay these concerns. The plan was presented by Chris Chamberland of Berkshire Design. The property abuts wetlands, so the Conservation Commission required that the parking surfaces be permeable. Gravel was chosen as the surface material.
Planning Board members Karin Winter, Thom Long, and Bruce Coldham visited the site. Coldham and Winter lamented that most of the backyard would be lost to the parking spaces, but could see that getting the cars off of the narrow street was desirable. Long noted that the location would keep most cars out of the sight of neighbors. Allen and Albano said they need the two front spaces because of mobility limitations, and that they plan to age in place. Allen pointed out that several houses on Spaulding Street have similar curb cuts.
Neighbors Rebecca DiCorsi Cornell and Amy Gates approved of the added parking, but Gates was concerned that the gravel surface would wash into the wetland area or be dispersed by snow removal. Winter and board member Janet McGowan said they have gravel driveways and have had little trouble with the material being scattered by rain or snow. McGowan recommended using a snowblower instead of a plow for snow removal.
The other issue with the property was that what was built does not comply with the 2007 special permit. Although renting out rooms is allowed in single-family homes, it was not permitted by the 2007 permit. Albano had the architect redraw the plans to reflect the existing layout of the house, which former Planning Board member and neighbor Rob Crowner said was more like a single-family home with an accessory dwelling unit than a duplex. However, Building Commissioner Rob Morra said that making this change would not affect the need to rectify the original special permit to reflect the current structure and to allow renters. Albano said she would not be able to afford to stay in the house if she does not have renters.
A letter from the fire department regarding the proposed changes had not yet been received by the time of the meeting. There was also a suggestion to reduce the rear parking spaces from five to four to permit some more green space to remain and to allow the last car space to turn around. Planning Board Chair Doug Marshall expressed a desire to do a site visit himself. Therefore, the hearing was continued to October 19 at 6:35 p.m.
Officers And Committee Liaisons Elected For Coming Year
Without objection, Doug Marshall was elected to another year as Planning Board chair. Thom Long was voted vice chair for another year. Although Marshall nominated Janet McGowan as clerk, she declined the position due to the work required of her as a member of the Solar Bylaw Working Group. McGowan nominated Johanna Neumann, who was chosen unanimously.
Bruce Coldham will represent the Planning Board at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. Andrew MacDougall will continue on the Community Preservation Act Committee, and Thom Long will continue on the Design Review Board. Brestrup will continue as liaison to the Community Resources Committee.
The meeting adjourned at 10:14 p.m. The Planning Board will next meet on September 21.