Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Town Meeting: The Horror ... The Horror!

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.


Anonymous said...

This town is so screwed and the saddest part is they are the only one's that don't know it, I've never seen such a poor business model in my life. They don't know where they need to be and certainly don't have any idea how to get there.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Jonathan Tucker, for being a voice singing out in the wilderness...

Anonymous said...

What is the difference (to the neighborhood) between a woman who lives alone but has a half dozen piano students each day versus a woman who has three teenagers living with her?

In either case there is going to be lots of vehicles around and all the rest -- the difference being that the piano teacher isn't going to have students arriving at 1AM.

What's next, having to get a permit to have teenaged children?

Larry Kelley said...

Teenagers grow up, get married and move away; piano teachers are forever.

But I do like the idea of a permit for teenagers. And the town could use drones for enforcement.

Anonymous said...

The several standing counted votes this spring on simple motions to cut off discussion are a new low in Amherst Town Meeting procedural history.

Anonymous said...

When people get confused, they get loud, they get fearful, they get animated, they get tearful, they lash out at authority, they accuse others of making money off of them.

We saw all of that last night.

Anonymous said...

yes, the horror! Imagine you live next door to someone with a small home business that might bring pesky road parking that disrupts your life. You could go to your neighbor and kindly point out the town requirements and then it is up to the town to determine if that business might be exceeding our town bylaws. Likely your neighbor will be entirely unaware of these bylaws and can thank you and the town for kindly helping (no penalties attached, and at no cost). HORROR!?!!?
If your neighbor has a small home business and has no impact on the neighbors, then there is NO penalty for NOT following the bylaw. WTH.
No wonder sane folks don't want to serve on TM. Some folks are their own worst enemies (and see enemies in gov even when its suits their best interests).

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Tucker is a disaster. He makes everything overly-complicated and lacks all credibility. Virtually nothing has passed on his watch because of it. He has too much bad history and needs to retire. Let's give someone new a try.

Anonymous said...

The meeting was not a recruitment tool for new Town Meeting members.

Yokal said...

What adult in their right mind would allow other adults to debate and decide what they can do in their home. Is this a joke post. If the adults in Amherst want to move into this century, they will get past asking their neighbors for permission. You don't need town approval to have a home based business, you need your wife's approval. The SIMPLE solution is to simply ignore anyone that says otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I was going to vote for the home office bylaw until I listened to other town meeting members. By the end of the debate I had so many doubts about it and what it involved, I voted against. There was good feedback that the planning board should have asked for to start with. I hope the planning board comes back with a clear version that exempts small home businesses from any regulation with specific, limited waiver power. Short and sweet, for once.

Anonymous said...

You could go to your neighbor and kindly point out the town requirements and then it is up to the town to determine if that business might be exceeding our town bylaws.

And if your neighbor is someone like me, the neighbor shuts down the business and gives your name and number to the upset clients.