Monday, May 23, 2011

0 for 2 on anti slum legislation


Amherst Town Meeting tonight gave the new housing code enforcement officer (approved earlier in the budget) one less bylaw to enforce by turning down a zoning change requiring one half of a duplex to be owner occupied or if both units are rented, an on site manager. Article #28 failed to reach a two thirds majority: 81-49.

The follow up zoning article #29 "Residential Parking Requirement" to forbid the unsightly practice of parking cars on lawns by requiring all parking spaces be paved also failed to garner a two thirds majority: 78-42.

These zoning articles were hatched in response to continuous complaints from older established town neighborhoods where single family homes converted to student housing by private "entrepreneurs" can make life miserable when UMass is in session.

Earlier in the meeting the body voted unanimously to pass article #27, "Adoption of Stretch Energy Code," which increases by 20% the energy efficiency requirements set forth in the State Building Code for new construction making Amherst a 'Green Community' with better access to state grants to fund programs such as efficiency initiatives or renewable energy projects.

The meeting started with a standing moment of silence for Bill Field, former Moderator of 20 years, who passed away yesterday. A visibly shaken current Moderator Harrison Gregg cited Field as his inspiration.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a progressive Amherst resident, who "feels good" about my advanced degrees and courageous moral righteousness, I can "feel good!" about these feelgood votes to increase neighborhood deterioration and to hasten the decline of property values.

Anonymous said...

Each June- Amherst should have a beautification month. (When I was young- my Mom coordinated this project for our town as member of a garden club) A local company would win an award for their efforts.
Get residents, landlords and business owners on board to pick up and spruce up.(Get the hardware/ home improvement stores involved)
Trash companies and the landfill could offer opportunities to help deal with all the JUNK.

Something needs to be done- Amherst is looking BAD!

Anonymous said...

you all act like it's kentucky

schmucks

Anonymous said...

As always, the 1/3 + 1 minority in TM runs the town (or runs it into the ground).

LarryK4 said...

Now you know why insiders LOVE the institution.

Anonymous said...

"The follow up zoning article #29 "Residential Parking Requirement" to forbid the unsightly practice of parking cars on lawns by requiring all parking spaces be paved also failed to garner a two thirds majority: 78-42."

WHY? Who voted to allow parking lots on lawns? Larry, this is still happening. Take a drive down Lincoln, Fearing and other rental-ridden streets near UMass. There are plenty of front lawns adorned with cars, trash and furniture.

Re: a neighborhood clean-up month, I'll be damned if I spend one second cleaning private commercial rental properties so get-rich-quick slumlords can get even fatter paychecks and lazy college students can continue to party, trash property, scream at all hours of the night, leave red cups and broken beer bottles all over their lawn and pee in front of my child in broad daylight. Should they not be required to keep their property to a minimum standard? As it stands, I have to pick-up litter in my lawn every single morning during the school year.

I will not vote to re-elect one single town official. You can count on that. Amherst needs proper zoning to separate the commercial businesses (rentals) from the hard-working homeowners.

LarryK4 said...

Unfortunately it was only a standing vote and not a tally vote, so it is not recorded for posterity who voted to allow cars to continue to be lawn ornaments.

But you can bet over the next year or so some of those very same people will call 911 late on a weekend evening to complain about rowdy behavior from the party house next door--the one with all the cars parked on the lawn.

Ed said...

Larry, I would have voted against both ordinances -- we are going to ban crushed stone driveways? What about the cobblestones that one of the really expensive houses on Lincoln Ave installed a few years back -- at no small expense -- they are going to have to pave on top of them?

And as to the owner-occupied duplexes, what about when the owner is a family member other than the occupant (i.e. you buy the house for your daughter, planning to leave it to her in your will, but you don't want her owning it now.

(I have seen families do this a lot when a girl gets pregnant and has a small child - she can't own the house because it would be considered an asset and she would loose her WIC/etc benefits, but her extended family can let her live in it for free.)

And one more thing -- so the slumlords pave the lawns. Then what?

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see just how many total votes it took to elect the 1/3 + 1 minority (and, yes, it's a pretty static group)at each member's last election. My guess is we'd be astounded at how low that number is.

Ed said...

Two more things: First, what about "existing nonconforming use"? Everyone who has a place where cars are now being parked on the lawn will be permitted (by right) to continue to have that being done.

And second, when are you going to go after the real problem -- the slumlords. The people who OWN these places, and the management companies that manage them. How about an ordinance that the OWNER or MANAGER gets arrested for noise complaints?

Seriously, if you can arrest students, then you can arrest owners and issue an arrest warrant and make the owner come to the APD station in person (or have an outstanding warrant that will show up on any records check).

As long as it is only money, the owners will just pass it on to the students who will then pass it on to their parents. When they start getting told "or bring your toothbrush to court", when they start being told "be at the APD by noon tommorow or we will have your local PD bring you here" -- when they start getting told this, it won't be financially profitable to permit this sort of stuff to happen anymore.

LarryK4 said...

The nuisance house ordinance passed in 2008 has a provision for fining the owner of the party house the same $300 as the tenant.

The town has yet to issue one of these.

Anonymous said...

A house should not be converted into for-profit commercial rental - period. This town has no zoning. Amherst needs zoning.

It also needs to punish business owners (rental managers) who fail to manage their property. The police are not here to do that for you. You don't simply buy a house, rent it out and collect money. You mow the lawn, enforce rules, enforce the lease, set parking standards and evict those who do not abide by those standards. I've lived in so many different states, and I've never in my life encountered such absurdity. An apartment is a complex - not a house. An apartment manager is a full-time employee who lives on-site - not a retired person who lives in another city.

When I moved here, I was told that Amherst was expensive for a reason. Boy was that wrong. I wasted money buying a house in this town. We're moving out of Amherst as soon as the economy picks up.

Anonymous said...

"And one more thing -- so the slumlords pave the lawns. Then what?"

You're not allowed to have more than a small percentage of your lot as hardscape. Please stop spouting arguments when you know nothing about home ownership or permitting in the town.

LarryK4 said...

I just hope one of the slumlords does not buy your house and then convert it...

Anonymous said...

"I just hope one of the slumlords does not buy your house and then convert it..."

We've thought the same. But we really don't care anymore.

LarryK4 said...

Yes, one major problem is the party houses when set up to pack them in like sardines is worth so much more than assessed value.

It would be kind of funny to see the look on the one or two of their faces if the Amherst Redevelopment Authority should decide to take all of Phillips Street by eminent domain, and would only have to repay them that assessed value.

Other funny thing is not a single neighbor from any of the surrounding streets would mind at all.

Ed said...

The very same property owners and management companies that are responsible for the places that keep making Larry's "party house" list are ones who don't rent to Section 8 tenants.

And the question is *why* don't they rent to Section 8 tenants? In one word: 105CMR410. In a few more -- if they rent Section 8, they will have to be responsible landlords, have to both maintain and manage the place.

If they don't keep it repaired, the housing authority can legally stop paying for it -- and the landlord can't go after the tenant for the money. Slumlords fear this -- and thus only rent to students...

Yet I know of one case where the director of a housing authority had to personally install the smoke detector's in a child's apartment -- my advice was sought and it was that since they (child and others) are all UM students, no one is really going to care and the most expedient thing would be to swing by WalMart and then go put them in yourself.

And there is far worse --- leaking roofs, no heat in the winter, sewerage backups, toilets that flush all over the floor, etc.

You are not going to get the students to start respecting the town until the town starts respecting the students. Reigning in these slumlords would be a good first step.

Forget arresting students -- the first time you actually "arrest" (show cause) an owner of one of these places -- make him have to drop everything and actually drive in from Schenectady or Swampscott -- the first time you do something like this will be the last time because a lot of your problems will evaporate overnight.

Deal with the slum lords (and not their victims, which is what the students are) and they will sell the buildings to more responsible landlords. Make what they are doing not so profitable and these houses will remain single family...

Anonymous said...

Both articles, however well intended, were poorly written and confusing. As Ed noted, it sounds as if 4 cars are parked on your lawn at different angles right now, you could continue to do so.

The articles are also indirect and tortured ways to address the basic problems: noise, garbage (and couches, etc.) on lawns, and cars. The indirect approaches that Amherst uses (e.g. no more than 4 unrelated people in a unit) lead to further contortions. The whole issue with conversions to duplexes is that large houses that could be rented to 5-8 people aren't allowed to be rented that way. So what do people do?--they turn them into duplexes.

If you addressed the triumvirate of noise, garbage, and cars directly, you would much more likely be able to ameliorate them. Consistent stiff penalties for noise; consistent, swift ticketing for garbage on lawns (and the act of littering); and consistent ticketing of cars on lawns.

More generally, the town needs to think about the big picture and realize that many neighborhoods are already transformed, and almost all of them have student rentals. There is no going back to some halcyon time. The town needs to figure out concrete, workable ways for students and non-students to live in close proximity to each other.

Going forward, the town needs to satisfy the demand for student housing by creating large amounts of it (isolated from non-students) or by working with the University to get them to do it. Otherwise the economic incentives for renting existing housing stock to students will continue the conversions to student housing that the town has been completely unsuccessful at understanding or dealing with.

Ed said...

It would be kind of funny to see the look on the one or two of their faces if the Amherst Redevelopment Authority should decide to take all of Phillips Street by eminent domain....

It would be appropriate for the AHA to take all of Phillips Street by eminent domain and then (a) bring the units up to code, (b) rent them out to UMass students subject to the occupancy limits established in 105CMR410 (which, unlike the 4 person ordinance, *will* pass court muster), and then (c) hire a management company (Wynn comes to mind) to manage it for you.

This would -- of course -- be pro-student and that ain't gonna happen, I know, but...

IT IS THE SLUMLORDS THAT YOU NEED TO DEAL WITH -- PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING MONEY AT YOUR EXPENSE!!!

IT IS SIMPLE ECONOMICS AS THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO SOCIAL CONSCIENCE -- AS LONG AS THEY MAKE MORE MONEY THIS WAY, THEY WILL CONTINUE TO DO THIS SORT OF STUFF.


And as to the person who mentioned too much of the land being paved, my response is when was the last time that the town enforced any code issue on one of these slumlords?

Tenants are told not to park on the lawn on Saturday, and next Monday you have a nice parking lot there.

I once had a hard enough battle to get a slumlord (and UM professor) to prop up a porch roof that was about to collapse -- and this was an emergency repair to the main entry of the building...

Exactly who in this town is going to make him remove the parking lot? Particularly when he starts screaming "racism" -- I once was accused of clairvoyant bigotry -- discriminating against a woman that I had never met nor spoken with "on the basis of race, sex and sexual orientation."

All I had was her first name -- a common one -- yes I could presume she was female, but how was I supposed to even know the race or sexual orientation -- knowing what it was being a logical prerequisite to being able to discriminate on the basis of it...

I say again -- exactly who is doing to do what after the slumlord paves the lawn???

The same people who aren't doing anything right now????

Anonymous said...

"A house should not be converted into for-profit commercial rental - period. This town has no zoning. Amherst needs zoning."

I just can't believe the stupid comments written on this blog. Someone can't rent out their house in your little world? So if you are elderely and have to move to a nursing home, or have to move to a new city because of a new job, you just summon the magic house buying genie because you better make an instant sale or you will lose your house. Try thinking for just one moment.

Ed said...

It also needs to punish business owners (rental managers) who fail to manage their property. The police are not here to do that for you.

Nor is the University of Massachusetts. If you rented to WalMart employees, would you expect WalMart to do it for you?

105 CMR 410 establishes - quite clearly - the number of people allowed to live in a unit based on both the square footage of the bedrooms and the square footage of the total unit. But the town ignores this -- allowing the A-1 units in Boulders that do not meet this requirement.

What the town needs to do is limit the freshman class at UMass. The town needs to negotiate a limit on the size of the freshman class -- that there be a relationship between the number of students admitted and the greater community's ability to house them.

The town needs to encourage responsible owners to obtain "boarding house" licenses -- of which there is at least one in Amherst that I know of -- this will solve a lot of problems as long as (a) the town enforces the rules, (b) the owners actually get the licenses and go along with the rules and (c) the NIMBY folk understand that this is the lesser of two evils, the other being what they are looking at right now...

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why we're selling and moving. We're too old for this. I'm not working my entire life to finally afford a house for a half million, not that I ever could but still, only to have my next door neighbor sell to a real estate investor who splits the big house into a slum for Girls Gone Wild. I'm done with Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, regarding: "I just can't believe the stupid comments written on this blog. Someone can't rent out their house in your little world? So if you are elderely and have to move to a nursing home, or have to move to a new city because of a new job, you just summon the magic house buying genie because you better make an instant sale or you will lose your house. Try thinking for just one moment."

It is obvious you have never lived anywhere but Amherst. Every civilized city has zoning regulations.

Anonymous said...

Against renting your house? Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

No, you can rent your house, of course. You simply cannot convert it into an apartment - a building and business that is no longer a single-family residence.

Renting your home to another single family is very different than sub-dividing a single-family home into multiple units with a line of mail boxes hammered to the front porch. I do not mind living next door to a family with children of which are renting my neighbor's house. I do mind living next door to 10 unrelated individuals of which are separately leasing various units (which used to be bedrooms) or having that single-family house converted into a multi-unit apartment.

Google housing zoning laws.

Anonymous said...

A few links:

http://www.zoningmatters.org/facts/primer

http://www.zoningmatters.org/facts/districts

http://www.realtor.org/library/library/fg803

Anonymous said...

Hey, Ed... Glad to see you're still so hard at work on getting your degree, rather than wasting your time bloviating online.

Oh, and how's that OCR lawsuit going? Gotta hand it to you -- filing lawsuits has got to be the most creative form of procrastination I've ever heard of. (Or should I say, "merely threatening to file lawsuits, over and over and over again"?)

Anonymous said...

I do not mind living next door to a family with children of which are renting my neighbor's house. I do mind living next door to 10 unrelated individuals

Ummmm -- you would feel differently if these ten teenagers were related to each other?

Would anyone please tell me how a 15-18 year old young person inherently is any less obnoxious than a 18-21 year old one? Or, for that matter, exactly how you tell the two groups apart?

The problem here is that there are too many persons living in the building, and if you had 10 high school students living next door, you would be equally upset.

Remember too that (a) high school students lack the responsibilities of UMass kids (can't flunk out of ARHS, don't have to pay tuition), (b) not all parents care where/what their children are doing (or when), and (c) not all parents have control over their kids once they get bigger than the parents are.

You could have a single mother smoking dope all day with her drug-dealer boyfriend de jour while her kids wreak havoc amongst the neighborhood all day and night -- I've seen it, right on down to the bloody baseball bat left on the fire escape outside the teenager's room. And the neighbors not able to do a damn thing about it, the cops too afraid of being called "racist" to do much either.

Be very, very careful what you ask for lest you actually get it...

Anonymous said...

"You could have a single mother smoking dope all day with her drug-dealer boyfriend de jour while her kids wreak havoc amongst the neighborhood all day and night -- I've seen it, right on down to the bloody baseball bat left on the fire escape outside the teenager's room."

1.) You've never lived outside of Amherst, given you know nothing about zoning laws, which do maintain property value and quality of life in civilized cities nationwide.

2.) You've definitely never lived next door to a half-million dollar home. An owner-occupied $500,000 house with mom, dad and 2.5 kids is worlds away from that same house split into units and stuffed with 10 drinking-age college students who think Amherst is their Fort Lauderdale away from the 'rents. Seriously, dude, a dope-smoking parent who owns a half-million dollar house. Whatever. I guess that's the trouble with these boards. I thought I was talking to a mature, educated person.