Jeff Bagg, town planner. ZBA Chair Tom Simpson, Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford.
The Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals shook off a constant chorus of complaints from nearby neighbors and unanimously approved a special permit for family practitioner Dr. Kate Atkinson to occupy a 16,000 square foot LEED certified building she plans to construct in a Professional Research Park on the outskirts of Amherst Woods, an upscale neighborhood where Dr. Atkinson also resides.
The $2.5 million building will add to Amherst's anemic commercial taxbase (currently under 10%) while keeping a vital service in town.
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The Zoning Board of Appeals is like the Governor in that they decide if a business venture will live or die. Tonight they play that role to the hilt. Holding off their final decision about whether Dr. Kate Atkinson, a general practitioner in the endangered field of family medicine, can build a larger facility in her hometown, in an research park until this final meeting of 2010.
Starts 7:30 PM. (On time). No public comment tonight, just a discussion of the board.
Hilda Greenbaum is concerned about adding additional office space when there are currently vacancies in the stock of town commercial properties now. (And of course Ms. Greenbaum would know as she owns a fair amount of property in town.)
Also concerned that the second floor would, gasp, also be occupied by medical practitioners thus turning the building into a "medical center."
Dr. Kate could add one medical employee and house them in the upstairs location but they would be limited to only 22 hours of operation. Ms Greenbaum wants to know how that would be enforced--especially during flu season when that provider may be, God forbid, tempted to stay in the office and put in extra hours.
Tom Simpson and Jeff Bagg both respond that it would be the job of the building commissioner to enforce the hours of operation.
Dr Kate: I do a lot of work from home on the computer.
Building commissioner Bonnie Weeks: "I don't think the bylaw is greatly concerned with a once in a while thing--especially if an emergency. As long as they routinely keep track of their hours it should be easy to see if they remain complaint with the bylaw."
Dr. Kate: We have evening hours now and it's very quiet. Many incidents are handled over the phone.
Hilda: What if she has a weight watchers group after 7:00 PM?
Dr Kate: And that would be bad, why?
Jeff Bagg: Limits on number of people who can occupy that space via conditions.
Tom Simpson: We can limit number of days for after-hours usage in upstairs meeting room by condition. Say, once a month. We can limit use of exercise room to only employees of the practice.
Dr. Kate: Exercise room is only for employees.
Jeff Bagg likes the idea they are starting to talk about "conditions" rather than voting no.
8:25 They seem satisfied now with hours and use of the upstairs space (with conditions).
Next issue: Retention basin for storm water runoff. Hilda G. wants a fence to protect kids from falling in.
Tom Simpson on the issue of traffic: 13 patients per hour is their max so it's not going to be a huge increase.
Hilda Greenbaum: "If we turned it down due to traffic we would get laughed at."
Jeff Bagg: Traffic study confirms traffic will not see a major increase.
Hilda G: Can this practice support the overhead of that building? (worried that Dr. Kate will belly up and sell to someone else.)
Tom Simpson: That's not our concern.
Tom Simpson: Are we agreed the (medical) use is allowed and acceptable with conditions?
Other two members agree.
Conditions: Exercise room only for employees. Limited number of full-time employees. If second floor is rented, the tenant must come back to Zoning Board for approval. Fence around the retention basin at least 24" high. 2nd floor meeting room can only be used for educational purposes. Limit of three full-time medical practitioners, total max of 120 hours per week. Permit expires on change of ownership or management.