Letter: Too Many Unanswered Questions Concerning Proposed Zoning Bylaw

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The following letter was sent to the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals on February 14, 2023.

This Thursday, February 16, you will hear a presentation by town councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, proposing to significantly relax our zoning restrictions, making it much less likely to need a special permit or site plan review for certain types of residences.

She states that the purpose is to increase the housing supply in town, so that more people can find housing at more affordable rates.

Studies have shown that as Amherst’s housing supply increases, it leans very heavily to student housing, from out of town investors buying up homes for cash, to construction of five story private dorms in our downtown. And that the rents do not become more affordable. They all gravitate to the highest rates, often above $1400 per bed. In a triplex with 12 residents (if the legal limit is respected) the rent could be $16,800 per month.

Councilor Hanneke clearly stated in her presentation to the planning board that she doesn’t know what the result of her wholesale zoning changes would be.

She offers no proof that by making it much easier to convert houses to duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses, it has created or will create more opportunity for families, retirees, young professionals, and all the kinds of community members that we need to maintain the healthy balance of residents that the town needs.

It was interesting to me that several members of the planning board seemed to dislike Councilor Hanneke’s plan, yet they mostly suggested to implement it one step at a time,

I encourage the Zoning Board of Appeals to be more forthright and sensible. Ask the hard questions, such as:

  • Why should we support a gigantic change in zoning when even the sponsors of the change admit they do not know what the result will be?
  • Why is it proper for one councilor to spearhead such major experiments? Is this not a collaborative body, representing the interests of the people in the town? (I have heard that other councilors are resisting Councilor Hanneke’s flood of major changes).
  • When is Amherst populated enough?
  • Are we not in a unique situation, where there is a humongous demand for beds in Amherst that will never be satisfied?
  • What is the healthy balance of students and non students? (it is now majority students, dwindling K-12 population, under 10% are 65+. The US average for over 65 is 14%, but as college towns are often desirable retirement locations, it’s bad that we are one third less than average.

I encourage you to understand why Councilor Hanneke’s plan is very wrong. I encourage you to give a full throated “No” and not accommodate a bad plan by implementing it in pieces.

Ira Bryck

Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the “Western Mass. Business Show” on WHMP for seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.

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1 thought on “Letter: Too Many Unanswered Questions Concerning Proposed Zoning Bylaw

  1. At one meeting …Town Council Council members were stating that UMASS needed to provide housing for its students. Now about a month later the members are atwitter about a proposed plan to change zoning which would.allow developers to eventually construct buildings that would.provide rentsl apartments to students and others. What…or how are they thinking? They want to turn what has.been an envied town center into the north end of Hartford ? More and more, I am getting the feeling that too many Town Councilors are not really interested in maintaining the attractiveness of the town , but in satisfying investors-developers who are interested in making the almighty dollar and not at all interested in anything else.

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