Debate Over Proposed Duplex/Triplex Zoning Changes Goes On And On


79 Taylor Street following conversion to a duplex. Photo: Google Maps

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board Meeting, May 17, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Thom Long, Karin Winter, Janet McGowan, and Johanna Neumann. Absent: Andrew MacDougall.

Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director) and Pam Field-Sadler (Assistant)

No Determination On Proposed Multi-family Housing Zoning Changes
The majority of this meeting was devoted to the discussion of the extensive zoning changes proposed by Town Councilors Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) and Pat DeAngelis (District 2). Hanneke was present at the meeting. 

At the May 3 Planning Board meeting, the board attempted to break down the complex proposal of changes to Articles 3,4, 9, and 12 of the zoning bylaw by only addressing the changes to the duplex policy. Board members did not come to any agreement over the advisability of the proposed changes. They raised doubts about the impact of some changes on neighborhoods and infrastructure, especially the Aquifer Recharge District, and also whether these changes would produce the intended increase in housing in general, specifically including affordable housing. .

At this meeting, the discussion was extended to include triplexes and townhouses, but similarly reached no consensus about the advisability of the proposed changes. In the end, the Planning Board decided to continue the discussion until the June 21 meeting. Planning Board Chair Doug Marshall felt that part of the problem of evaluating the proposal lies in the heterogeneity of the Neighborhood Residence (RN) district, and that redrawing the RN zone should be considered. (The RN area encompasses pieces on both sides of East Pleasant, North Pleasant, South Pleasant, and West Streets; Pomeroy Lane;  Shays Street; Pine Street; Strong Street; Amity Street and Pelham Road; and Russell Street, College Street, and Belchertown Road (Route 9). See  Still to be discussed are converted dwellings and subdividable dwellings.

Revisions Proposed Street Light Policy Received Favorably
Hanneke and Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5) brought their proposed changes to town street lights policy to the Planning Board for comment. The amended proposal received favorable comments at the May 4 Town Services and Outreach meeting and will be brought to the full Town Council for approval. Although the policy does not involve zoning, Planning Director Chris Brestrup noted that many proposals that come before the Planning Board involve projects close to public lighting or the placement of street lights in a new subdivision.

The new proposed policy aims to reduce light trespass, provide lighting with warm color temperature, and reduce light pollution. The existing street light policy was passed in 2001. The new proposal mandates:

  1. Full shielding of all lights
  2. Only lighting the intended areas, no trespass onto nearby property
  3. Night sky compliance and specifications (see appendix)

The policy will be phased in as existing lights need to be replaced, probably over the next 10 years. There will be no change in the placement of street lights. 

Marshall had questions about some of the specifics in the policy. He noted that the “warmest temperature possible” would mean red street lights. He also questioned the amount of staff time needed to keep an up-to-date map of street lights in town. He asked if there had been any feedback from property owners about shielded lights no longer illuminating their property. Hanneke said that she has heard “some” negative feedback, with some residents  wanting intrusive lighting removed and some expressing concerns about the reduction in light. Both the Transportation Advisory Committee and Disability Access Advisory Committee were supportive of the new policy but voiced concern about the locations of street lights.  New lights are to be a maximum of 2700 kelvin.

Survival Center Shed To Remain Indefinitely. Jones Library Tent Approval Extended To Fall
The shed constructed at the Survival Center during the pandemic continues to be needed because the use of the center has continued to remain high. The approval for the shed expired at the end of March, and the center requested that it be extended indefinitely. The Planning Board approved the extension unanimously, with one absent.

The tent in front of the Jones Library received more discussion. The poles remain but there is no canopy on the “tent”. Board member Janet McGowan wondered how much it would be used given the end of pandemic precautions, and called the structure “rather unsightly”. Facilities Manager George Hicks-Richards estimated that it would be used 8 to 10 hours per week, largely for children’s programming, over the summer and early fall. The Planning Board extended the permit until October 30, 2023.

The meeting adjourned at 9:22 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for June 7.

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