Planning Board Recommends Zoning Bylaw Changes For Restaurants and Bars. Continues Olympia Drive Private Dorm Hearing


Photo: Amherst Business Improvement District

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, November 16, 2022

This meeting was conducted over Zoom and was recorded. It 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)

Planning Board Recommends Zoning Bylaw Changes For Restaurants And Bars
The Planning Board (PB) voted 5-0-1 (Janet McGowan abstaining and Karin Winter absent for this part of the meeting) to recommend the changes to permitting of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs put forth by the Planning Department. The changes are to articles 3.35, 5.0, 11, and 12 of the Zoning Bylaw and, in brief, consider all restaurants and bars that serve food as one class that can be approved by site plan review or  by the building commissioner if only minor changes are planned to a previously approved establishment. Bars that do not have a functioning kitchen, nightclubs, and restaurants with a capacity of over 200 would still require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

In addition, outdoor dining, heating and cooling devices, and live or prerecorded entertainment would be permitted as accessory uses, and outdoor furnishings could remain in place as long as they were being used. Senior Planner Nate Malloy said that extensive experience over many years of permitting these establishments, along with the temporary expedited permitting during the pandemic, has given the town a valid list of conditions to be met so that the lengthy public permitting process is often unnecessary. 

The Community Resources Committee advised that a condition be added that an establishment must present a plan for patrons leaving at closing to prevent them from congregating outside at closing time. Building Commissioner Rob Morra noted that there is no alcohol service allowed after 1 a.m., but businesses are allowed an extra hour for clean-up and to permit patrons to finish eating and drinking. 

McGowan suggested that there be a public hearing for any establishment open after 11:30, because of the effect on the neighboring residents. Malloy pointed out that any restaurant or bar serving alcohol must receive approval from the Board of Licensing Commissioners, Board of Health, Police Department, and Fire Department. A change in hours of alcohol service would require new approval by those bodies.

Malloy noted that 20 restaurants received administrative approval to open or expand under the temporary pandemic provisions, and there have been no complaints. He added the administrative approval actually leaves more flexibility to deal with complaints, because it is more involved to alter a special permit or site plan review than to allow the appropriate department or commission to deal with the complaint. McGowan suggested that an application be developed that lists all conditions that must be met for approval in order to help applicants navigate the process. The changes proposed do not apply to temporary uses for one-day events, which require a permit from the town.

Permit Process Progresses For Private Dorm At 47 Olympia Drive
The Planning Board appeared generally pleased with Archipelago Investments’ plans to erect a 68-unit apartment-style dormitory at 47 Olympia Drive, the site of a previous sorority. Kyle Wilson represented Archipelago at the continuation of previous hearings. The project is still awaiting final recommendations from the Conservation Commission, which next meets on December 14.

PB member Bruce Coldham again raised concerns about the adequacy of the surrounding UMass parking lots to provide enough parking for the residents of the new building, but Chair Doug Marshall pointed to a new email from UMass Associate Vice Chancellor for University Affairs Nancy Buffone stating that, unlike last year, UMass parking permits were still available. She suspected that because of uncertainties of the campus staying open during the pandemic, more students brought cars to campus last year. She did state that this is no guarantee that permits would be available in coming years.

PB member Thom Long said that if students needed a parking space and couldn’t get a permit, they would live elsewhere, but the Olympia Drive site was close to campus and had excellent bus service. Andrew MacDougall agreed that parking adequacy would be a self-correcting problem, and Marshall pointed out that the students living in UMass dorms also are not guaranteed parking. He said that people don’t like dorms being constructed downtown, so we should not be putting up roadblocks for this project. Coldham said his concerns were allayed by the arguments of the other PB members. Planning Director Chris Brestrup noted that the conditions for the approval of 57 Olympia Drive, a similar private dorm, require that if the parking situation changes, a new parking plan must be approved. The same condition will apply to 47 Olympia.

According to Wilson, the building will have all electric utilities, except for propane for the generator. There will be five accessible units and five handicapped parking spaces, although handicapped parking could be increased if needed. There will be covered bicycle racks, but no indoor bicycle storage. He said the indoor storage areas are not used much in Archipelago’s other buildings because most tenants take their bicycles up to their apartments. The building will be nonsmoking, but it is uncertain whether vaping will be allowed.

The public hearing on this project will be continued on December 21 at 6:35 p.m.

Cement Blocks Still Present In Drive At Marijuana Growing Facility
On August 17, the PB considered the Building Commissioner’s finding that the owner of Riverside Organics marijuana growing facility had placed 10 concrete blocks at the entrance and along the driveway to the greenhouse and office at 555 Belchertown Road. The PB members were unanimous in their opinion that the blocks were ugly and possibly unsafe, and Coldham developed a sketch of wooden planters that would be more attractive. 

However, Jonathan Gurfein, owner of Riverside Organics, found Coldham’s solution unsatisfactory and expensive. He reports that the cement blocks are necessary because cars park in the driveway and drop garbage on his property. He also said the cement blocks protect the greenhouse from someone accidentally driving into it, and that he wants to keep traffic to a minimum, because the tank for his septic system is under the pavement and may be damaged by excessive traffic. 

McGowan thought the cement blocks were a safety hazard because drivers might not see them, especially in low light. The marijuana facility is located off of a curve in Hall Drive, the road to Valley Medical Center. Gurfein said he plans to put reflectors on the cement blocks and to place an unlocked gate between them to discourage unauthorized cars from parking on the property. He will bring new plans to the PB on December 21 before making any changes. He hopes the PB considers the changes minor enough that he can avoid having to go through another public hearing to modify the prior approval given in 2020.

The meeting adjourned at 10:12 p.m. The Planning Board will next meet on December 7.


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