Michael Ben-Chaim (standing) 8 opposition neighbors (rear)
My late journo mentor Howard Ziff once told Amherst Town Meeting that a "good compromise" is one where neither side walks away perfectly happy, and our Zoning Board of Appeals appears to have adopted that philosophy with their painfully long discussion of 28 Shays Street, a public hearing that took three meetings to, finally, conclude.
ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford, Eric Beal, Building Commish Rob Morra
And for new owner Michael Ben-Chaim, 3rd time was the charm...sort of. The ZBA unanimoulsy approved, over neighborhood objection, the expansion of the 50+ year old house built from a Sears mailorder kit the right to expand from a one-family to a two-family dwelling where normally each "family" could possibly be four unrelated adults.
And of course the major concern of neighbors are those unrelated adults = "students."
Originally Mr. Ben-Chaim, a teacher by trade, wished to expand to a three family dwelling. Yes, that may have been salesmanship on his part, expecting the board would compromise at two. But the most interesting condition of the compromise requires Mr. Ben-Chaim be one of the families, and if he sells the house, the buyer must live there or the house reverts back to a one family unit.
28 Shay Street. Baird House hidden behind screen of evergreens, with more coming
As any of you who have followed my Party House of the Weekend series knows, the winners are always owned by absentee landlords. I grew up in a large house on High Street where my mother was forced to rent to students to make ends meet. And we never had a problem with noise, vandalism, or drunken revelry. Hell hath no fury like an angry Irish mother.
The idea of creating a condition for "owner occupied" as part of the approval seems to have originated with the Amherst Historical Commission. Not that the deteriorating house at 28 Shays is historically significant. The immediate neighbor, however, most certianly is and that abode at 38 Shays Street is characterized as"the most historically significant house in town."
No, not the Dickinson Homestead--although it is also closely associated with Amherst College: The Baird House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for noted Amherst College professor Theodore Baird.
And yes, maybe I'll forgive the Historical Commission for that slight to Miss Emily, because the Baird House is most certainly the most important architectual house in Amherst.
And the Historical Commission and Design Review Board went out of their way to ensure the Baird House is not impacted in any significant manner by the new renovations, recommending tree plantings for additional screenage, downcast lighting, and locating the tenant parking spaces as far away from the Baird House as possible.
The Zoning Board took their advice, incorporating those conditions into their order of approval.
Now if only the ZBA would start making that "owner occupied" provision mandatory in all future single family conversions Amherst would be better by far for it.
And in this particular case, safe bet the neighbors will be watching to ensure the provision is enforced.
ZBA Petition Shays St