Cowls former lumber mill: 20+ acres in need of development
Adhering to the old PR mantra about repeating something often enough to make it seem true, North Amherst resident Melissa Perot -- who fancies herself a Joan of Arc -- has been repeating ad nauseam the Planning Board's "technical fix" (Article 18) for mixed use buildings, "REZONES the entire Commercial District and in particular the large 20+ acres of Cowls land in N. Amherst." (Bold caps are all hers naturally.)
Simply put the only thing Article 18 does is to put into words what has been common practice with Building Commissioners over the past 25 years: allowing offices for doctors and lawyers, government agencies, public service, etc. Or what Ms Perot refers to as "paper pushers."
The only other change is reducing from "two or more" ground floor dwelling units down to "one," thus encouraging smaller mixed use developments like a business owner living above his or her business.
In fact Article 18 came about via a request from Building Commissioner Rob Maura and not from any of the developers Mr. Perot rails against.
Ms. Perot did manage to torpedo an actual zoning CHANGE at last spring's Town Meeting that would have allowed greater density of dwelling units in a mixed use building. For instance, in the Trolley Barn now under development, instead of the current four units the same amount of space could have been subdivided into eight residential units -- twice the current number.
And that is precisely problem #1 in our little "college town:" Too many residents -- more than half of them "college aged youth" -- and not nearly enough housing to shelter them. As a result, speculators buy up single family homes, expand them into 2 family homes and rent them out to eight (or more) students, some of whom behave in a less than civil manner.
The skyrocketing rents push out low income residents using Section 8 housing vouchers, single parent households or anyone trying to survive on a minimum wage salary.
Town Meeting has continually turned down common sense zoning changes that would increase desperately needed housing stock (the town currently has only four apartment complexes with 200+ units).
And even when projects are announced that can be built "by right" (without zoning change) the NIMBYs sharpen their pitchforks, fire up the gas powered torches and make life miserable for the property owner and proposed developer.
Even worse than Ms. Perot trying to roll back the minor gains made through zoning changes at the spring Town Meeting, another NIMBY -- amazingly enough one with a business background -- wants to tighten (like a noose) the town's four unrelated housemates bylaw to only three.
Yes, in a town with 5,265 rental units -- not nearly enough to handle current demands -- Ira Bryck would reduce total occupancy by as much as 25% with a single stroke of legislation. Amazingly naive.
In fact the town should -- under very strict circumstances -- allow more than four unrelated housemates depending upon the house. But require the owner to seek a "special permit" from the Planning or Zoning Board, so the building commissioner, police and fire department can weigh in on the matter.
Amherst needs an across the board increase in housing stock. This housing crisis is certainly nothing knew having been talked about since the early 1970s where the town even briefly flirted with, gasp, "rent control."
Enactment of the Residential Rental Property Bylaw to "protect the health, safety, and welfare of tenants and other citizens of the Town of Amherst" last May was a giant leap forward for the town, setting the stage for future much-needed development.
Ms. Perot and Mr. Bryck's ideas places them squarely in the same league with the Flat Earth Society. Although ironically enough, the first step in development is to level the site.
68 Cowls Road
Bring on the bulldozers!