Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, December 7, 2022
This meeting was held on Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.
Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Karin Winter, Thom Long, and Johanna Neumann. Absent: Janet McGowan and Andrew MacDougall
Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Nate Malloy (Senior Planner), and Pam Field-Sadler (Assistant)
Tree Removal Sparks Permit Review
The Planning Board unanimously granted a special permit to Carol Albano and Bruce Allen on October 19, 2022 to construct a driveway with four parking spaces and an additional two parking spaces near the street at 51 Spaulding Street. The public hearing was complicated when it was discovered that Albano had failed to comply with a 2007 special permit granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA granted a permit to expand the house to a two-family, but Albano instead added only an efficiency apartment without notifying the town of the change in her plans. The owners also currently have three boarders, for a total of seven people occupying the house.
After discussion, the Planning Board, accepted the new layout of the house and also the expansion of parking as a solution to complaints from neighbors about cars belonging to the tenants of 51 Spaulding parking on the narrow street. Albano and Allen were to return to the board with a landscaping plan for the area along the driveway.
However, a neighbor notified the town shortly after the permit was approved, that a tree had been cut down at the south end of the property, despite it being designated to be retained in the plans previously submitted and approved.
In defending the removal of the tree, Allen said that he had the tree warden Alan Snow look at several trees on the property and was told none belonged to the town. The fir tree in question had lost many of its needles, and Snow suggested that Allen have an arborist examine it. Two arborists said that the tree was diseased and should be removed. Because Allen was worried about liability if the tree fell on the street, he elected to have it cut down at a cost of $1000. Since the tree was on the property border, he approached the neighbor about sharing the cost, but the neighbor declined to contribute. Allen admitted that it did not occur to him to notify the town.
Planning Board member Johanna Neumann asked how permit conditions are monitored, and what means of enforcement are available to the town. She also asked how people are informed about the process and expectations of the permit granted. Planning Director Chris Brestrup said that the Building Commissioner is responsible for enforcing permits. He has the power to levy fines and even take a property owner to court as a last resort. He can also deny renewal of a rental registration permit. She added that the conditions for the permit are registered with the deed, so a future owner would be aware of them during the title search.
Planning Board Chair Doug Marshall and member Thom Long said it was unfortunate that Albano did not comply with the original permit, and that this was the second instance of noncompliance. Brestrup explained that the Planning Board could reject the special permit, but that would put the applicant back to redoing the 2007 permit, and the Building Commissioner would have to deal with the violation. She thought a better outcome could be achieved if the Planning Board would approve the two permits (2007 and 2022) and give the Building Commissioner the ability to enforce the conditions and monitor the new parking arrangements.
Several neighbors on Spaulding Street spoke of having to deal with tenants’ cars parking on the street for the past 15 years, and the lack of trust between them and Allen and Albano. Amy Gates expressed worry that the current owners would move, and the house would become a tenement, but Planner Nate Malloy assured her that the house needs to be owner-occupied, and any new owner would need to submit a management plan if he/she wanted to rent out part of the house.
The Planning Board approved the permit unanimously, but required the owners to return before the board in August or September to verify compliance with the conditions specified.
Hearing On ServiceNet’s Plans For Transitional Housing Continued Until January 4
ServiceNet plans to construct 12 studio apartments for transitional housing at 12 to 20 Belchertown Road, the previous site of a restaurant and fitness center. Two units will be accessible. There will also be an office area with a conference room in the center of the building. Attorney Tom Miranda and Engineer Ryan Nelson of Levesque Associates said alterations will involve repaving the 39-space parking lot and fixing the culvert over the stream to the east. The only modifications to the building will be removing one entrance and installing a new walkway and new windows.
Brestrup pointed out that, as a nonprofit, ServiceNet is exempt from some zoning regulations. However, since much of the parking lot work was in the buffer zone along the intermittent stream, approval from the Conservation Commission was needed. The Conservation Commission will continue its evaluation of the project when it next meets on December 14.
Several Planning Board members made a site visit, and all thought the amount of parking was excessive. Bruce Coldham suggested that the parking lot could be made smaller, and some of the area could be seeded with grass or other plantings. Long was concerned about the poor condition of the culvert and the trash discarded near the stream. The plans call for a four-foot chain link fence along the back area of the lot to protect the stream.
Nelson indicated he would rather repair the asphalt than dig it up and discard it. He also felt that the extra area would be useful for vans and buses to maneuver.
There was concern about the locations of the condensers for the mini-splits planned for each unit. Also, the location of the dumpster and the exterior siding and roof materials were not specified in the rough plans presented. In addition, Brestrup raised a question of whether the property at 10 Belchertown Road is part of the same parcel. If it is, she would need to check whether all the abutters within 300 feet of that building were notified of SeviceNet’s plans.
Brestrup will determine if there are other abutters and if the hearing needs to be reposted. She urged the applicant to return to the board on January 4 with more detailed renderings, stamped by an architect.
Planning Board to Consider Expansion Of East Village Center To Increase Services
Long noted that the population of the area around South East Street and College Street will be greatly increased with the construction at East Street School and Belchertown Road, the ServiceNet project, South East Street Court, and the expected expansion of Colonial Village. He said that although there are some community gardens and convenience stores in the area, he would like to see more access to healthy food. He suggested expanding the Village Center further down Route 9 (Belchertown Road) to encourage development of food markets and restaurants. This topic will be discussed at a future meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 9:28 p.m. The Planning Board meets next on December 21.