Friday, October 25, 2013

Strangling Supply

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.  

 Trolley Barn

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!


Anonymous said...

Ira Bryck doesn't go far enough -- I'd love to see it reduced to ONE. No more people "living in sin" -- their Constitutional right to do so be damned as in Amherst, the Selectboard's whim supersedes everything else.

I'd love to see Amherst do what UMass already does (and seemingly is getting away with) -- require all couples to be legally married and to give the town a photocopy of their marriage license.

As one of my friends pointed out, *his* marriage license is in Hebrew (as they were married in Israel) and unless one can actually READ Hebrew, it could just as easily be his shopping list, but hey, UMass has the demanded photocopy of something which no one there can read.

So demand that all the lesbians living together get married (as UMass does), only let people who are related by blood or marriage live together and have a nice little fascist community where you are imposing your religious values upon everyone else.

But wait -- I didn't know that Amherst was run by Bible-thumping religious zealots. You learn something new every day...

Tom McBride said...

The easiest solution will be to free up as much undeveloped land as possible, and making zoning rules as liberal as possible, allowing more stock for commercial space and residental housing. And please, no 3 acre minimum to get a home permit, we want people to live in the community. You'd think it would be a no brainer. Then deal with with the issue of section 8 housing, which may easier to deal with at that point. Everybody likes open space, but this is too much, we've been living in a fantasy land. We're not royalty.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:17 p.m. and Tom McBride:

Please stay right by your computers posting comments on this blog.

That will keep you from doing any more damage.

If you don't get out much, that's fine.

Anonymous said...

While town meeting may have failed to pass several zoning changes over the last few years, just saying it failed does not paint a proper picture. As you know Larry a 2/3 majority is needed to pass a zoning change not just a 50.1% majority. Town meeting has come close to 2/3 many times in excess of 62% on many occasions.

It is people like you mention in this article that spread fear and uncertainty and ensure the mess that is Amherst. They and their minority brethren, some of whom are landlords continue to fight over mealiness details and miss the big picture year after year. After all it is these people who gave us the Retreat.

Many of us in town meeting and in forums warned then if they did not come up with solutions eventually the free market would and the solutions would be less than desirable. It is this minority who is responsible for what will happen to Cushman. Hope they like what they created.

I would recommend that the vocal minority start coming up with solutions and stop throwing up road blocks. With the low income housing stock dropping to allow any developer to come in and build as the state permits, I am guessing we have not seen anything yet.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:46 connects the dots of years of opposition by a minority in Town Meeting. The consequences are even less control over development decisions going forward. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

If Ms. Perot and Mr. Bryck want to place blame squarely where it belongs, they should look around at the people near them carrying the signs who've been in Town Meeting for years, if not decades.

Anonymous said...

The idea of limiting student houses to 3 unrelated people would only work if UMass creates more housing on campus. Stan Rosenberg recently said it would not be hard to work around the Pacheco rule that now prohibits private/public partnerships, so that private builders could add more dorms, and awaits proposals from UMass. The Chancellor says they are looking at that. What would be the problem if more students lived on campus, more houses were affordable by families, less landlords in the over-occupancy business? Also, many home builders are out of the affordable house business, when large homes are more bang for their buck.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 12:08

I'm not sure if the housing you mention would provide tax revenue to the town or not. If it does not then it is bad for Amherst. Like it or not umass will always have a significant population living off campus. That puts a strain on services, police, fire, buses, etc. Umass does not pay any amount of significant taxation to balance the population of students. Certainly they employ lots of people who pay lots of taxes but the town is out of balance. We need more private taxable development in the future. To be fair the town also needs to get the local school spending under control. It is a huge part of the budget and growing at an unsustainable rate. Most people in town are to chicken to say anything about it. So as long as both situations continue Amherst needs a broader tax base. Even if they don't like the developments that are created to give it to them.

Anonymous said...

Could the planning board have a more confusing set of zoning articles and zoning bylaw? More work for attorneys and experts.