Letter: Proposed Zoning Changes Disenfranchise Year-round Residents
The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council and Amherst Planning Board on Februaru 23, 2023.
I would like to express my concern about the proposed change to bylaws to loosen the process for obtaining permits to construct additional housing, including triplexes, duplexes, and townhouses, with the intent of improving housing affordability.
There is no evidence that adding more housing in a context such as ours will make it more affordable. The demand is too strong. We will simply motivate those students who live in surrounding towns to move to Amherst where they can be closer to their educational institutions. There is no data to support the view that more housing will somehow increase affordability in Amherst.
While I strongly support densification of housing, including on my street where there is a rarely used parking lot, I would hope that any new housing will consider a future tax base and economically thriving diverse neighborhoods where a sense of community is strong. I also enjoy the presence of students in Amherst and the diversity they bring to the town.
If we are to be a town with universities rather than an extension of the University only, we need to do the opposite of what is being proposed. Rather than eliminating existing bylaws, we need to strengthen them so all renters (students and others) can be assured of healthy and safe housing with standards that are regularly enforced through inspections.
In order to be a viable town and not just an extended campus, consider limiting the share of student housing to the overall housing share (example: 50 plus percent of housing reserved for year-round residents), so we have room for working families, including employees of the academic institutions within our town.
Engage with long-term residents who have the biggest stake in a town that is economically thriving and environmentally sustainable. Allowing building by eliminating current permitting requirements seems nonsensical. We are replacing an existing process that allows for reconciliation among neighbors (via the ZBA) with a single decision-making authority, for no stated reason.
The proposal is hugely technical with many specific bylaws that those of us who are likely to be impacted can barely understand. But some things are clear. The proposed changes are supposed to address the problem of insufficient and affordable housing in Amherst, but not even the proponents provide any evidence or claim that the bylaw changes would address the problem.
Help your constituents to understand the purpose of these changes and how they will increase affordable housing that is also safe and healthy.
– What are the reasons for proposing these changes now?
– Who benefits from these changes, and who pays the cost of these changes?
– Why not find ways to densify with regulation so we strengthen our town’s diversity as well as our environmental and social sustainability?
– Why make changes that disenfranchise residents who pay taxes to support our town without achieving the goal of affordability?
– What’s wrong with listening to abutters? Why not avoid future abutter opposition with a more collaborative approach?
Hopefully these and other questions will be addressed so constituents like myself can understand why we are deregulating in the name of affordability.
Rani Parker is a resident of Amherst’s District 3