Amherst Planning Board in the hot seat
If you ever wondered why the Charter change movement came ever so close to replacing Town Meeting with a more efficient City Council ten years ago, last night's session provided a grim reminder.
After an hour-and-a-half discussion that ranged from BIG government has no right to intrude on artists and piano teachers, to slumlords are ruining our neighborhoods, Town Meeting failed to muster the two-thirds vote required (90 yes, 76 no) to pass a simple Home Based Businesses zoning ordinance.
The measure would simply have brought Amherst into the 21st century by categorizing and approving home based businesses and giving the Building Commissioner the authority to grant waivers to keep things simple.
Building Commissioner Rob Morra, leading the Charge of the Light Brigade
And unlike the new Rental Registration and Permit system the Building Commissioner also oversees, there would be no registration fee for a low-impact businesses like teaching piano, guitar or knitting.
Head Planner Jonathan Tucker pointed out his mother used to teach piano at her home in South Amherst. And there is a difference between having one or two students per day more as a hobby than seeing a half-dozen or more students daily as a full-time profession.
The Planning Board was one-for-two however as Town Meeting, after an hour of discussion, did approve rezoning land owned by Hampshire College around Atkins Farm Country Market to "Village Center" thus allowing mixed use (commercial and residential) development to take place.
Property above and along side Atkins Farm Market rezoned to Village Center: ("If you build it ...")
Unlike our other two institutes of higher education, Hampshire College pays NO Payment In Lieu Of Taxes. UMass pays $325,000 and Amherst College pays $90,000 annually (although they insist on calling it a "gift") for the protection of Amherst Fire Department. And Hampshire College requires about the same number of responses as Amherst College.
Thus allowing them to develop these parcels with a mix of business and residential will at least add to the tax rolls and maybe help alleviate an exceedingly tight rental market.
Currently the tax base in Amherst is exceedingly lop sided with residential making up 90% and commercial only 10% of the revenue generating tax base.