Crowd attending Planning Board Public Hearing
Amherst Planning Board Chair David Webber told the crowd of about 25 concerned citizens, town officials and housing developers who attended the public hearing at the Bangs Center last night that an Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw to help stimulate low-income housing, "Is worth doing, but we need your help."
Amherst Planning Board
Ideas ranged from a "payment in lieu" of affordable units into a trust fund, to allowing developers to build the required units off-site away from the market rate units, or increasing the density of projects so developers could get more market rate units to offset the affordable ones.
The problems seem greater in the downtown, which is close to built out, and therefore more expensive to develop. Critics portrayed Kendrick Place, a mixed-use five story building which just broke ground, as the poster child for special treatment since none of the 36 units will be affordable and the project did require some minor variances from the Planning Board.
One idea floated by PB Chair David Webber is to allow a height increase in the downtown to six floors from the current five. The crowd seemed receptive to the idea.
Maurianne Adams also pointed out UMass and the town need to work together to allow public/private partnerships to build new student housing on or near campus that would be plentiful, safe, and pay property taxes.
Making the affordable unit requirement too strict and you end up with nothing because developers walk away, but make it too easy and they walk all over you. So the Planning Board, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, needs to find a proper balance that's "just right".
The Planning Board is targeting the Fall Town Meeting for an Inclusionary Zoning Article, with September 26 the deadline for article language. In addition to the public forums soliciting advice the Planning Board will also hire a consultant to figure out the real world impacts of such an article on mixed use centers.
Amherst housing production has been practically non existent over the past generation, resulting in high rents pushing out middle class families and low income residents, the creation of students slums, and unhealthy discord in our political arena.