ZBA Approves Construction Of Two Family Home On West Street

290 nWest Street, Amherst. Photo: amherstma.gov

Report On The Meeting Of The Zoning Board Of Appeals, March 9, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Steve Judge (Chair), Tammy Parks, John Gilbert, Dillon Maxfield and associate member David Sloviter

Staff: Rob Morra (Building Commissioner), Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Steve McCarthy (Planning Department)

The property lines of two adjacent properties at 290 and 300 West Street are to be re-configured to allow the property to the south (300 West Street) to be large enough for a two-family home, as specified by the requirements of the zoning bylaw. Both properties are owned by You Pan Tzeng of Longmeadow, Massachusetts and his partner Susan Han, or various other partnerships in which they participated. Tzeng has owned 290 West Street since 2008 and 300 West Street since about 2012. He was represented at this meeting by Property Manager Alan St. Hilaire and Michael Liu of Berkshire Design.

The properties abut the Crocker Farm School. The previously granted Special Permit states that Tzeng does rent to students. It is difficult to determine how many student-rental houses he owns, since rentals are not all listed under the owners’ names in the assessor’s records. St. Hilaire has been managing these two properties since 2008 according to the Special Permit issued in 2009 that allowed Tzeng to build the second unit on the northerly lot at 290 West Street.

About 9,810 square feet on the south lot line of the 39,055 square foot lot at 290 West Streets is to be added to 300 West Street to permit the construction of the two-family home. Most of this land will be used to handle the rainwater run-off from the site. Changes to the site plan from the 2009 Special Permit include concrete tire stops to delineate the eight parking spots and moving the required boulders to the east of the parking area to keep cars off the grass. The planting plan required in the conditions of the Special Permit was never implemented. According to the site plan, Tzeng agreed to install a garden in front of both units in 2009, but this condition was never fulfilled. There are no trees or shrubs on the property other than the shade trees planted by the town near the street. Tzeng maintains that the reason there are no plantings is that trees and shrubs only attract litter that requires maintenance to remove. The bicycle shed and 8 by 10-foot trash enclosure required in the 2009 special permit were also never built.

When ZBA Chair Steve Judge asked how the trash cans are screened at the site, St. Hilaire answered that there was a single-side six-foot vinyl fence in front of the trash cans. The existing post lights on the property are planned to be removed and replaced with downcast lights on the building which ZBA member John Gilbert noted will result in less light spillage on neighboring properties. ZBA member Tammy Parks asked if the tenants at 300 West Street will have the use of the added square feet. There is ample open lawn in the backyard for tenant use.

Some conditions on the new Special Permit issued require the gravel sidewalk from West Street to the front door, a path now covered by grass and weeds, to be restored. There was discussion about whether there should be a condition specifying the number of people allowed on the property at any one time. Board member Dillon Maxfield said he is “not a fan” of this condition because, for example, eight graduating seniors and their parents may want to have a barbecue to celebrate, and that would be a violation of the permit. Judge spoke for keeping a limitation in case there are noise complaints. However ,to avoid the perception of being “arbitrary and capricious”, he prefers to ask the owner what number makes sense rather than placing an arbitrary number in the conditions, because what is appropriate in some neighborhoods is not appropriate in others. The board is not requiring Mr. Tzeng to provide any landscaping on the property.

The permit for construction of a two-family house at 300 West Street was approved with conditions similar to those on the new permit issued for 290 West Street that redraws the property lines.

In other business, a sign was approved as requested by the new owners of the pizza restaurant on the corner of Fearing and Sunset Streets.

Public comments involved of a discussion with Associate ZBA Member Vincent O’Connor, who wanted to end Zoom meetings for the board. Several members noted the advantages of Zoom meetings to them to not have to leave home at the end of the work day, and stated that one member would be unable to participate if not for Zoom. The ability to accommodate abutters and enable them to attend meetings was also cited as an advantage of Zoom. The question may be moot, because unless legislation is passed by the state to extend the emergency provision that allows remote meetings, Zoom meetings will no longer be legal as of April 1, and all meetings will have to be “in person.”  However, according to State Representative Mindy Domb it is likely that the ability to hold remote meetings will be extended to 2025.

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4 thoughts on “ZBA Approves Construction Of Two Family Home On West Street

  1. I make a motion that if a student landlord wants a special permit, but when granted one previously:

    • conditions of the Special Permit was never implemented.
    •this condition was never fulfilled.
    • something “required in the 2009 special permit were also never built”

    The ZBA must realize that their conditions are not suggestions, and all special permits and rental permits be revoked for unreliable characters. Respect for our community is a cost of doing business.

    This would be respect for our community, and tough love for the disingenuous characters.

  2. This is another reason why permitting should not be eased for development of non-owner occupied multifamily housing. Even the current conditions are sometimes not followed. The ZBA process is not onerous. This out of town landlord was granted his permit, even though he had not met the conditions of his previous permit. One would think oversight should be more rigorous, not less.

  3. I absolutely agree with the 3 comments above. Why, if the petitioner has not abided by his permit stipulations, is he being granted another permit ….? Is he another of the unoccupied owners of rentals who will take more advantage of the application and permit process? We are already having some difficulty with so many student rentals, let us not encourage other builders to take.advantage of our town.

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