(11/29/07) The Select Board met Monday, November 19th at 6:30 p.m. in the Middle School music room prior to Town Meeting. Gerry Weiss, Anne Awad, Rob Kusner and Hwei-Ling Greeney were present, and Alisa Brewer was absent. Town Manager Larry Shaffer was also present.
Joanne Lind spoke about a new draft of a letter she and other concerned citizens had initially presented to the Select Board at the October 15th meeting, regarding opposition to a potential attack on Iran by the United States. She said that the risk of such an attack is increasing, and urged that the Select Board consider signing the letter to legislators as soon as possible. It was agreed that the Select Board would try to be ready to address the letter at the next meeting.
The Select Board approved the Common Victualler license for Amherst Barbecue and Mr. Chicken in a vote of 4 to 0, 1 absent.
Patty Brandts, Executive Director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke of the Merry Maple celebration and how it has been a tradition in town for more than 30 years. She requested the same street closing arrangements for the occasion as had been granted last year, noting that a section of street that had been closed in the past for horse-drawn carriage rides was not needed this year.
Ms. Greeney moved to approve the closing of the parking lot in front of Town Hall, the Spring Street parking lot, and Boltwood Avenue between Spring Street and Main Street for the November 30th event. The vote to approve the closings was 4 to 0, 1 absent.
Ms. Brandts requested that parking be free at the “pay and display” lots for 9 days leading up through December 24th, and for free parking at those same lots as well as at downtown meters on Greeting Card Day, December 1st.
Mr. Kusner noted that although he is “a stickler for parking,” it might be more convenient to start the free parking before the holiday on Saturday, rather than Sunday, allowing an additional day over last year’s allotment. Ms. Brandts agreed.
There was some discussion about whether the free parking should have a 2-hour limit to encourage turnover and discourage downtown employees from taking up the free spots. It was agreed that enforcement would be difficult and that the free parking made for a good opportunity to encourage downtown businesses and employees to use permit parking.
Mr. Kusner said that Motion B was expected to be divided, separating the proposal to allow inns by Site Plan Review from the same proposal for hotels and motels. He said he supported the change for inns. Mr. Weiss suggested that Mr. Kusner make separate motions on the two parts, and Mr. Kusner did so, moving to recommend that inns be allowed by Site Plan Review.
It was noted that the Select Board had already voted 3 in favor and 2 opposed to support the undivided motion B, but that the previous vote would not be relevant if the motion is divided.
The vote to support the motion for inns was approved, 4 in favor, and 1 absent.
Speaking of his concerns about allowing hotels and motels by Site Plan Review, Mr. Kusner noted that he had wanted but not received an opinion from Town Counsel on the issue. He said he supported the idea of encouraging inns in older buildings, but thought there were good reasons to keep hotels and motels under Special Permit, and said they might negatively impact smaller inns. He moved to recommend that the hotel/motel change be referred back to the Planning Board.
Mr. Weiss said that he had been discussing the issue and the question of Special Permit versus Site Plan Review with Planning Director Jonathan Tucker, a developer, an attorney, a banker and others, and said that he wanted to hear the discussion of the topic at Town Meeting. He said he had gone from supporting the change to being ambivalent about it.
Ms. Awad said she agreed with Mr. Kusner’s suggestion of a slower phased approach, starting with the change for inns. She said she had spoken with two banks where she has accounts and was told that Special Permit is not a factor in obtaining financing. She said that funding is contingent on permit approval, not on the process of obtaining the permit.
Mr. Weiss said he had learned the same thing from a commercial loan officer and an attorney. He said the developer he spoke to said that some banks have an issue with Special Permits expiring on a certain date or not being transferable with the sale of the property.
Mr. Kusner said he had heard about the issue of Special Permit transferability from a developer as well, and said the proposed hotel/motel change wouldn’t address that.
Ms. Greeney asked if the proposed change would just affect Spring Street, and Mr. Weiss and Mr. Kusner explained that it would affect the whole General Business district downtown.
The vote to refer the hotel/motel change of Article 15 back to the Planning Board was 3 in favor, 1 abstention and 1 absent, with Mr. Weiss abstaining.
Jim Oldham of the Coalition for Sustainable Neighborhoods spoke about Article 17 and how it differs from Article 16, because no one from the Planning Board or Planning Department was present at the beginning of the discussion to speak to Article 16. Mr. Oldham said that both articles seek to rezone 10 parcels, and that both articles propose the same rezoning for six of those parcels. He said that the ones that both parties agree on seek to align the zoning in that area with the property lines, and that both seek Village Center-Business zoning for one of the parcels. He said that the difference between the two articles is that Article 16 seeks to make the four parcels in question Village Center-Business versus Article 17’s proposal to make them Village Center-Residence. He said that Village Center-Residence would allow for more intense residential uses and offices in mixed-use development. He said that the Village Center-Residence zoning would help support a future successful Village Center in this area, and would let the existing low- and moderate-income housing on the parcels remain or be replaced, and would keep housing on the four parcels. He said that in Article 16, the Planning Board’s majority is seeking to allow mixed-use development that would include retail stores, offices and residential uses on the parcels, but he said that there is no guarantee that would be achieved and said it could open the door for the sort of highway commercial strip development that’s on College Street now. He said that the area is currently dangerous, ugly and poorly-designed and said it was identified as one of Amherst’s “weak” places during the Master Plan Process. He said that the problem with Article 16 is that it doesn’t prevent undesirable outcomes.
Mr. Oldham said that Article 17’s proposed Village Center-Residence zoning would provide a buffer between businesses and residences of Colonial Village. He said the biggest issue raised in opposition to Article 17 is that Village Center-Residence doesn’t allow for enough uses, such as retail. He said that would be a problem if it were the only part of the Village Center where such development could happen, and said that there is much retail on College Street already. He said that it was appropriate to have residential use to support those businesses, and said that while a mix of uses is needed, the mix doesn’t have to occur on every parcel.
Mr. Weiss said that Article 16 represented a “lovely vision” if it were to be achieved, and said that wouldn’t be possible under Article 17. Mr. Oldham said that the concern is “commercial sprawl” and said that that can’t spread around the corner of South East Street with Article 17.
There was discussion of other protections and possible future uses if Article 17 were to pass. Mr. Kusner raised the issue of an expanse of green space which must be crossed to allow access to business, and was cautioned about calling the space a “common.”
Mr. Tucker arrived and apologized for being late. He spoke of the area as an “isolated pocket” of proposed rezoning and said there is no cause for concern that the area could expand in the future because he said it is bounded by Colonial Village and the Amherst College wildlife sanctuary. He spoke of the other nearby apartment complexes that could be served by increased business offerings in that area. He said that office use possible under Article 17’s Village Center-Residence proposal would require Special Permit, and are not allowed by right with Site Plan Review. He said that a larger number of residential units are allowed under Village Center-Business zoning than are allowed under Village Center-Residence, due to differences in lot area requirements. He talked about concerns for possible automotive-related uses in Village Center-Business, and said that except for retail auto parts, all other uses would require ZBA Special Permit. He said that zoning opens doors for possible uses but does not guarantee them, and said that the protections are the permit process and citizen vigilance. He said that the question is: considering all the existing residential areas in the vicinity, what is the most important use for these parcels?
Mr. Tucker said that the difference between articles 16 and 17 is that Article 16 seeks 6 Village Center-Business parcels and 1 Village Center-Residence buffer parcel, while 17 seeks 2 Village Center-Business parcels with 5 Village Center-Residence parcels. He said that the relative range of uses needs to be considered in order to determine what to do with the small area in question. He said that the Planning Board believes that the opportunity to provide services, shops and possible employment options in this area is as or more important than providing new opportunities for principally-residential uses with the possibility of offices.
Mr. Tucker emphasized that the green area referred to earlier is not a common. Ms. Awad said she supported Article 16 and would seek to maintain the green space. She said that the fact that it is not a common speaks to past neglect to designate it as such, but that she can support 16 as long as she feels she can guard that green strip. Mr. Tucker said the Historical Commission shares that concern as well, and said that there have been discussions with the property owner to share a driveway for two of the parcels, and eliminate one of the three driveways currently crossing that strip.
Mr. Oldham said that in Article 16, the buffer between the Village Center-Business and residential area of Colonial Village was just one Village Center-Residence flag lot, and said that he suspected that that would not be the case if the residents of Colonial Village were home owners rather than renters. Mr. Tucker said that Colonial Village has its own wide natural buffer of an open lawn that cannot be built on because it is low and wet.
Mr. Kusner spoke about pros and cons of both articles, citing the wildlife sanctuary as a silent abutter, and the relative isolation of the parcels in question as benefits. He expressed concern about drainage issues related to new development.
Mr. Tucker said that drainage must be dealt with on-site and cannot go off the parcel. He said that dimensional requirements are maximums and minimums, and not guarantees. He said that the Planning Board can require that proposed development be smaller if the use doesn’t fit on the site, or if something like storm water infiltration requires that a project be smaller than what might theoretically be allowed on the dimensional tables.
The Select Board considered whether it should recommend Article 17 if Article 16 fails. Mr. Tucker said the Planning Board has not discussed or made a recommendation on that scenario. Mr. Kusner said that it was unfortunate a compromise wasn’t reached between the two groups, as was done with Article 1 on the November 28th Special Town Meeting warrant, because he said the two proposals were close in some ways. Mr. Tucker said the Planning Board would likely disagree about the proposals being close.
Mr. Kusner moved to recommended Article 17. There was no second. Mr. Weiss said he couldn’t recommend that article without a contingency. Mr. Kusner then moved to recommend Article 17 if Article 16 doesn’t pass. Ms. Awad seconded. The vote was 4 in favor, 1 absent.
Ms. Awad then moved to recommend Article16. Mr. Weiss seconded. The vote was 3 in favor, 1 abstention, and 1 absent, and Mr. Kusner abstained. Mr. Kusner said he had been trying to decide if he should vote no or abstain, and didn’t want to vote no because he said he sees merits to the article.
The meeting adjourned at 7:45 p.m. The next meeting had been tentatively scheduled for November 26th, but was cancelled. The next meeting would then be November 28th at 6:30 p.m. in the Middle School music room, prior to Town Meeting.
-- Stephanie O’Keeffe