Showing posts with label Zoning Board. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zoning Board. Show all posts

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Plethora Of Pot

Pot is now legal to grow in Massachusetts

The Amherst Select Board, keepers of the public way, is greatly concerned about the implementation of recreational pot which is already legal to grow and share as long as you don't charge for it (wink, wink). 

In their official letter to our good friend Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo they outline four requests:

(1) Allow a local municipality an easy way (Town Meeting) to delay recreation sales.

(2) Allow a local municipality an easy way (Town Meeting) to limit the number and location of recreational pot establishments.

(3) Rethink the "home grown" provision so Amherst is not overrun by free recreational pot.

(4) Rethink the 2% maximum local option sales tax on retailers.

The current law allows Amherst to limit the number of recreational pot permits to (a) either no more than the number of medical permits issued or (b) 20% the number of alcohol sales permits.

 55 University Drive received Special Permit from ZBA on June 30th

The Select Board issued four "Letters of Support" for medical marijuana businesses already and two of them have gained the necessary Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

But ZBA Chair Mark Parent strongly suggested he would not approve any more than two based on market projections for medical marijuana in Amherst.

169 Meadow Street, N. Amherst received Special Permit July 21st

And Alisa Brewer pegged the number of recreational pot permits that could be issued based on 20% of alcohol permits at three.

Either provision requires a referendum vote at our local election and either provision can be added to the ballot with a simple majority vote of the Select Board.

So at the very least the Select Board should place the limiting provision on the upcoming end of March local election ballot and if they want the least number of recreational permits, tie it to the number of Medical permits issued which may very well end up being only two. 

And to limit it even further simply grant the two medical facilities those two recreation permits, which the state already seems to condone.

Since the revenue to the town is based on a percent of sales (2%) the tax revenues to the town stays the same if it's 2 facilities satisfying the market or 22.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Matter Of Student Safety

Attorney Tom Reidy and Cliff Laraway appear before ZBA last night, Chair Mark Parent (ctr)

Sometimes the difference between life and death is measured in mere seconds -- especially when dealing with The Beast otherwise known as  fire.

A cluttered escape route, narrow stairway, or -- God forbid -- a door locked from the outside that doesn't allow opening from within, could quickly spell death of a most unimaginable kind.

Would you trust your life to this fire escape?

At last night's Special Permit hearing for 382 North Pleasant Street, which most people probably think of as a fraternity (which apparently it still is),  Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Mark Parent clearly stated, "My concern is about safety, that's what is driving this.  Some kids do crazy stuff and we need to protect them from themselves."

A September 29 Site Visit turned up "living rooms" with doors on them, and at least ten rooms with external locks on them (which as a joke someone could lock the person in), as well as a bevy of extra mattresses in storage.

Mr. Parent told the petitioner and his attorney, "It is very clear to me this site is occupied by at least 10 people consistently. No question it's more than the 8 allowed.  We need to come up with conditions that rectify that."

The town of Amherst has a zoning bylaw that restricts occupancy to no more than four unrelated housemates per one family unit.

Owner Cliff Laraway is requesting a Special Permit to allow the structure to be a two family, non owner occupied structure (for up to 8 unrelated tenants).  But the layout of the former fraternity, with so many rooms, makes it hard to enforce only eight of them be bedrooms.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra stated, "There have to be significant structural changes, like taking out a wall vs simply removing a door".

The Amherst Fire Department, having done car counts over the month of September, considers it a "rooming house" with 10 or more tenants, thus requiring an expensive ($39,000) sprinkler system.

 Click to enlarge/read

The Special Permit hearing was continued to November 5th so the ZBA could request an AFD representative attend.

The petitioner was sternly instructed to come back with floor plans that show eight and only eight bedrooms as well as physical changes in place to keep the other numerous available rooms from conveniently be used as additional bedrooms.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra did not waste any time taking enforcement steps to ensure the current population of the building goes down to only eight:

Monday, May 18, 2015

IF You Build It?

Greenleaves Buildings #27 & #25

The Zoning Board of Appeals is pretty used to concerned neighbors attending a public hearing with the intent to squash a proposed development via Special Permit in their front or backyard.

 Concerned Greenleaves residents pack May 14 ZBA meeting

But their May 14 meeting was a tad unique in that owners who live in Greenleaves Retirement Community turned out to complain about a Community Center being built in their side yard, a structure that is required by the original 2004 Special Permit that allowed Greenleaves to be built in the first place.

 Open lot between buildings #25 & #27

A legal arrangement they were aware of when first purchasing their condos in the development.

When the condo project was first built each building had one unit temporarily set aside as a "community room" as a convenience for the residents until the Community Center was constructed.

But the tenant/owners have now gotten used to that arrangement and apparently like it better than a stand alone building nearby.

 Proposed Community Room (that may not happen)

The project owners wish to reclaim the original community rooms and sell them as residential units as originally planned. 

The ZBA is now stuck in the middle of the dispute.  In a somewhat informal poll taken by management 18 residents supported building the new Community Center and 24 opposed it.

Senior Planner Jeff Bagg expressed concern that so much time has been spent on the proposed building and now it may not happen.  The ZBA would still have to modify the original Special Permit to allow for nixing the  Community Center and approve that space for parking or any other function. 

The hearing was continued to June 11th.

Russell Street is Rt 9. Greenleaves straddles Amherst/Hadley border

Friday, January 30, 2015

ZBA Drones On

Crotty Hall rendering looking from the Northwest

As usual the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last night went on for over four hours, and as is also somewhat usual they did not come to a final vote on any of the three major items discussed.  And you thought Amherst Town Meeting took forever!

First up was Stephan Gharabegian, arguably the most notorious absentee landlord in the town of Amherst.  Mr Gharabegian owns almost half the houses on Phillips Street, the most notorious street in Amherst.

33 Phillips Street

In this case he wishes to expand capacity for 33 Phillips Street, probably the most notorious house in all of Amherst.

The house is a 3-family unit meaning it can have 12 "unrelated" tenants.  But Mr. Gharabegian had, without official permit, refinished the basement for a 4th unit, thus increasing monthly rental income significantly.

And since the bootleg apartment had major health/safety violations -- no second means of egress in case of fire -- it came to the attention of Building Commissioner Rob Morra who shut down the basement apartment until the ZBA hears his case.

Which started on October 2, continued to November 6, continued to last night, and now continued yet again until June 11.

 Stephan Gharabegian addresses 3-member Zoning Board of Appeals last night

Neighbors repeatedly pointed out the detrimental impact that 33 Phillips has already had on the surrounding neighborhood (Fearing Street and Sunset Avenue) as a 3-family, so allowing it to become a 4-family will only make matters worse.

Besides, town officials should not be rewarding bad behavior, since the 4th unit was illegally created to begin with and only comes before the ZBA because he got caught.  Member Tom Ehrgood, waiving a police summary report, said the location was a "magnet for police attention."

The board was a little more receptive to another rental property with a less than sterling reputation, 164 Sunset Avenue.  They generally came to the conclusion that formalizing the house as a two family unit was reasonable, with some conditions that will be hammered out at the hearing continued to February 12.

The most surprising event of the night was a 2+ hour discussion (borderline heated) over Crotty Hall, a sleek new building proposed for 418 North Pleasant Street at the very gateway to UMass.

The Dover Amendment allows religious and educational institutes to pretty much run roughshod over local oversight except for the setback zoning requirements, which are enforced by the Building Commissioner.

In fact they are made even more stringent as the requirements in the Amherst Zoning Bylaw have to be doubled since educational and religious buildings are oftentimes HUGE and can be plopped down in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

In this case the designers did not realize that the 10 foot side setback touching Phillips Street needed to be doubled to 20 feet.  But the Amherst Building Commissioner did. 

Gordon & Crotty Hall. Dotted line top right Phillips Street property

Thus the building was totally designed, at a current investment of $222,000 (85% of which is lost if the building requires redesign), with a 10 foot side setback in mind.  Neighbors on Phillips Street are not happy.  The ZBA is caught in the middle.

Neighbors also complained that the twin building, Gordon Hall, has a noisy HVAC system that drives them crazy from April until October, and the new building will be much closer to them.

Sounding troubled, ZBA Chair Eric Beal said, "This is a hard case for me.  You relied on the 10 foot setback in good faith."

The proposed building is named for Jim and Pam Crotty, who have lived in Amherst for 40 years.

Mr. Crotty, UMass Professor Emeritus of Economics and Sheridan Scholar, spoke about bringing faculty who now work in Thompson Hall to the new building to work alongside colleagues in Gordon Hall:  "It would be superb to get this synergy between faculty and grad students."

Two members of the ZBA, Mark Parent and Tom Ehrgood, seemed convinced the extra intrusion into Phillips Street was not  "unreasonable", especially since the main UMass campus is only a snowball throw away.

Chair Eric Beal was not 100% convinced, however, and wished to see "renderings" of the new building.

The board took a five minute break so architect Sigrid Miller Pollin could pull them up from her computer.  But when the meeting resumed the renderings only showed the impact from North Pleasant Street and not from Phillips Street.

The appeal hearing was continued until February 12.  The building plan will also need review by the Amherst Planning Board for a Site Plan Approval.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Party House Primer

Chief Livingstone
Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone paid a visit to the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday to educate them about "Nuisance House" enforcement -- an important component of Town Manager John Musante's Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.

First off the Chief dispelled the myth that police officers drive around in their patrol cars looking for parties.  "We need to have to have a complainant, a valid complainant to dispatch an officer to a disturbance".

Usually easy to find in the form of a neighbor losing the peaceful enjoyment of their home.

The Chief reports that APD responds to between 900 and 1,200 quality of life (noise/nuisance) complaints annually, with only a minority resulting in action by the responding officers, i.e. a $300 ticket or arrest for TBL violation (Town By Law).

But that percentage is going up:  In the most recent year about 20% of the overall responses resulted in tickets or arrests, whereas the previous year it was only 14%. 

A lot depends on "cooperation at the door".  Meaning when officers first arrive do the responsible tenants comply with requests to tone down the rowdy behavior.  If not, and other infractions besides noise -- underage drinking, large crowds, haphazard parking of cars, littering -- are disrupting the neighborhood, then "Nuisance House" tickets are issued,  or arrests made. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals is considering tying a Special Permit (to expand the rental capacity of a house, almost always made by an absentee landlord) to "conditions" that must be met in an ongoing way.

And becoming a "nuisance house" would violate a condition, and bring with it the loss of that Special Permit.

The house would then revert back to the original capacity of only 4 unrelated tenants, a major loss of rental revenue.

Amherst building commissioner Rob Morra recently won a major victory defending the town's no more than  4 unrelated tenants in a one family dwelling bylaw.  Prominent landlord Grandonico Properties, LLC packed students into rental property on Hobart Lane, including illegally converting substandard basements into bedrooms and then tried to blame it on the student occupants.

Simply fining the noisy party house participants has not solved the problem.  Chief Livingstone stated no landlord has been fined yet since it takes a third nuisance house ticket to trip that regulation, but he declared confidently "It's going to happen this Spring."

Currently two locations on Phillips Street have two nuisance house tickets each.

Phillips Street

A dozen years ago when Amherst led the charge on banning smoking in the workplace, including bars, fines alone (issued to the bar, not the patron) had minimal impact.  Only when faced with loss of their liquor license did barowners learn the value of compliance.

Revoke a Special Permit from a slumlord for too many noise violations, thereby instantly cutting their revenues in half, and that party house will quickly go quiet.  One way or the other ...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Branded: A Public Slander

Edited to protect the innocent

About the only thing worse than losing all your possessions in a structure fire (besides your life of course) is to later have a lawyer publicly brand you as the culprit who caused the conflagration.

As another lawyer so famously asked of a bully on network TV, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

According to the Amherst Fire Department the cause of the 9/13/12 blaze at #28 Hobart Lane was "accidental" and "undetermined".

But according to Attorney Farber, hired gun for property owner Grandonico Properties, LLC, the blaze was caused by an occupant of a (illegal) basement bedroom. 

Oddly, he puts forth a scenario that is remarkably close to an another fire that occurred in South Amherst over a year before due to the Halloween Snowmageddon storm.  A young lady was drying her hair when the power went out, so she dropped the hairdryer on the bed and a few days later when the power finally returned, puff.

The fire department report clearly traces the fire origin to a bedside table, not the bed itself. Miss X also reports she does not own a "curling iron."

Yes the Hobart Lane basement area had one smoke detector but it was too badly damaged in the fire to determine if it was in proper working order.  Either way, with a basement illegally subdivided into two bedrooms, three smoke detectors are required and they need to be hardwired rather than battery operated.

Plus the entire basement area has only one window as a second means of egress, so the person with the bedroom that did not have a window could easily be trapped and turned into toast.

#28 Hobart Lane:  One basement window, two bedrooms

The other vital safety equipment missing that day was a carbon monoxide detector.  Attorney Farber even admits there were none, and that the Gilreath Manor complex uses gas water heaters located in -- you guessed it -- the basement.

In fact, a safety inspection immediately after the fire discovered one of the water heaters was not operating properly because it was covered by a blanket, a potential two-way death sentence by carbon monoxide poisoning, or a gas explosion.

Attorney Farber also admitted Miss X had concerns over unlabeled fire extinguishers.  Since there were no labels on them she would not have known they only contained water and therefore, should NOT be used on an electrical fire, which would have only made things worse.

Miss X also confirms she never tested any smoke detectors in the basement, only on the first floor, as she was unaware there was even one there.  The fire department inspector found one on the second floor was not working on the day of the fire and issued the Grandonicos a $100 fine.

ZBA Chair Eric Beal (also an attorney) was obviously upset by the written testimony put before his board, and he spent a fair amount of time "reading it into the public record".

Just as obvious on display -- via attorney Farber -- was the Grandonicos wish to place blame anywhere but where it belongs: on them.

As a result, a hard working young woman who -- through no fault of her own -- suffered the trauma of losing possessions to fire, gets thrown under a burning bus.

To quote that iconic theme song of the 60s, "What do you do when you're branded, will you fight for your name?"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

ZBA Accepts Surrender

ZBA Chair Eric Beal, Thomas Ehrgood member, Rob Morra Building Commish, Attorney Larry Farber in hot seat

It took two hours and ZBA Chair Eric Beal seemed to want to let the public thrashing of a prominent local landlord go on for two more hours, but he finally relented and voted along with his two fellow board members to allow Grandonico Properties, LLC -- AKA Lincoln Realty -- to withdraw their appeal of the Building Commissioner's $100/day fine for violation of the town bylaw restricting one family units to four unrelated housemates.
 Town Attorney Joel Bard, Jeff Bagg town planner, Hilda Greenbaum ZBA member

Originally the Grandonicos appealed the Building Commissioner's decision, claiming they should not be fined because they were unaware of their tenants (overcrowding) actions and should therefor not be held accountable.

The tenants -- all UMass students -- contacted UMass legal services and their attorney, Carol Booth, put together overwhelming testimony showing the Grandonicos were well aware, and in fact encouraged, violation of the town zoning bylaw.
 Seven roommates!

After a potentially catastrophic fire that started in an illegal basement bedroom of #20 Gilreath Manor on September 13, the tenants were told by their landlord to hide evidence of bedrooms in the basements, which borders on obstruction of justice -- a criminal charge.  

After these documents became public due to the ZBA hearing (and this blog), the Grandonicos wished to turn off the spotlight by simply withdrawing their appeal.  Tonight they got their wish.
Click to enlarge/read

But the ZBA still strongly reaffirmed the right of the Building Commissioner to levy fines on the landlords for infractions that occur on their property.  A message that will not be lost on other landlords in town.

Front Row: Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe, Jonathan O'Keeffe Planning Board, Alisa Brewer, Select Board rear seat front

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Zoning Compromise

Michael Ben-Chaim (standing) 8 opposition neighbors (rear)

My late journo mentor Howard Ziff once told Amherst Town Meeting that a "good compromise" is one where neither side walks away perfectly happy, and our Zoning Board of Appeals appears to have adopted that philosophy with their painfully long discussion of 28 Shays Street, a public hearing that took three meetings to, finally, conclude.
ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford, Eric Beal, Building Commish Rob Morra

And for new owner Michael Ben-Chaim, 3rd time was the charm...sort of.  The ZBA unanimoulsy approved, over neighborhood objection, the expansion of the 50+ year old house built from a Sears mailorder kit the right to expand from a one-family to a two-family dwelling where normally each "family" could possibly be four unrelated adults.

And of course the major concern of neighbors are those unrelated adults = "students."

Originally Mr. Ben-Chaim, a teacher by trade, wished to expand to a three family dwelling.  Yes, that may have been salesmanship on his part, expecting the board would compromise at two.  But the most interesting condition of the compromise requires Mr. Ben-Chaim be one of the families, and if he sells the house, the buyer must live there or the house reverts back to a one family unit.
28 Shay Street. Baird House hidden behind screen of evergreens, with more coming

As any of you who have followed my Party House of the Weekend series knows, the winners are always owned by absentee landlords.  I grew up in a large house on High Street where my mother was forced to rent to students to make ends meet.  And we never had a problem with noise, vandalism, or drunken revelry. Hell hath no fury like an angry Irish mother.

The idea of creating a condition for "owner occupied" as part of the approval seems to have originated with the Amherst Historical Commission.  Not that the deteriorating house at 28 Shays is historically significant.  The immediate neighbor, however, most certianly is and that abode at 38 Shays Street is characterized as"the most historically significant house in town."

No, not the Dickinson Homestead--although it is also closely associated with Amherst College:  The  Baird House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for noted Amherst College professor Theodore Baird.

And yes, maybe I'll forgive the Historical Commission for that slight to Miss Emily, because the Baird House is most certainly the most important architectual house in Amherst.

And the Historical Commission and Design Review Board went out of their way to ensure the Baird House is not impacted in any significant manner by the new renovations, recommending tree plantings for additional screenage, downcast lighting, and locating the tenant parking spaces as far away from the Baird House as possible.

The Zoning Board took their advice, incorporating those conditions into their order of approval.

Now if only the ZBA would start making that "owner occupied"  provision mandatory in all future single family conversions Amherst would be better by far for it.

And in this particular case, safe bet the neighbors will be watching to ensure the provision is enforced.

ZBA Petition Shays St

Friday, April 6, 2012

Party House e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n

Amherst ZBA from right:  Mark Parent, Hilda Greenbaum, Keith Langsdale. Jeff Bagg town planner

In spite of strong objections from neighbors and a first round "NO" vote from member Hilda Greenbaum that would have denied the Special Permit, the Zoning Board of Appeals eventually came around to a unanimous 3-0 vote, allowing the house at 156 Sunset Avenue to double from a one family to a two family dwelling, thus legally allowing eight unrelated occupants--guaranteed to be UMass students--to take up residence.

While neighbors concentrated on the problems associated with college aged kids herded into non owner occupied dwellings without on-site managers, many turned their ire directly at Eaglecrest owner James Cherewatti.
 Neighbor Mark Sims voices displeasure (no one in crowd spoke in favor)

Last weekend, for instance, the house in question was the scene of a major party broken up by APD.  An analysis of downtown properties owned by Eaglecrest (123 total living units) shows 75 police calls over the past three years.

Unlike a new zoning bylaw approved by the Planning Board and a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting that applies town wide, this case was only about this particular dwelling.  And since only a small part of the structure was too close to adjacent property, the house could have been brought into conformity (and thereby guaranteed two family status) via a chainsaw.
 156 Sunset Avenue, Amherst

 ZBA member Mark Parent pointed out to the hostile crowd that at least now they can put conditions on the expansion, one of which is for Eaglecrest to enforce a "three strikes and you're out" clause to evict unruly tenants.
 Phil Jackson (rt) questions whether Jamie Cherewatti (left) will enforce discipline rules

Unfortunately the ZBA did not make that a mandatory provision of maintaining the Special Permit, so if Cherewatti does not enforce his own lease provision, there is no mechanism to revoke the Special Permit, thus leaving little recourse for beleaguered neighbors.

As Sonny and Cher would sing, "The beat goes on." Party beat, that is.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Noise and Pot

Frat Row neighbor, 374 N Pleasant St, Pi Kappa Alpha. Managed by Kendrick Properties

Over the weekend Amherst police and fire personnel paid professional visits to this frathouse strategically located on the Gateway to UMass. No, that's not unusual.

According to APD logs: 2:27 AM (early Saturday morning)

Narrative: Loud Party
Music could be heard upon arrival.

Earlier that evening Amherst Fire Department responded to a smoke alarm alert due to "pot smoke near detector."

Interestingly the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals denied the conversion of a nearby (138 Nutting Avenue) sorority to a fraternity precisely because of incidents like this. In that case, the new owners have now filed suit against the town and ZBA.

On Wednesday night the Planning Board will take up a similar issue and discuss making recommendations to the Zoning Board of Appeals, who has ultimate jurisdiction:

Eagle Crest Property - 156 Sunset Avenue - to convert a dimensionally non-conforming single-family dwelling to a two-family dwelling.

And of course "two-family" does not mean a pair of 'Leave It To Beaver' households with a stay at Mom, working Dad, and two precocious kids. It means (at least) eight UMass students.

Ownership card for 374 North Pleasant Street

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Amherst Zoning Board slaps down Frat

Clockwise: Attorney James Heffernan, Town Planner Jeff Bagg, ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford, Eric Beal

The Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously late this evening to uphold the August 26 "cease and desist order" issued by the town building inspector to a fraternity abutting UMass, Pi Kappa Phi, at 38 Nutting Avenue because the particular abode was founded as a sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, and occupied by women since 1964.

Suddenly turning it into an all male endeavor, is a "change in use" which should have required a Special Permit from the ZBA. The new fraternity did not apply for such a permit and simply moved in this past August.

One of the main factors presented as evidence differentiating a sorority from a fraternity concerned alcohol: Sororities forbid it while fraternities allow--some would say encourage--it.

In fact, early last Saturday morning (2:37 AM)--as the hellish winter storm drew a bead on our area--a young woman was discovered ETOH (alcohol overdose) at the 38 Nutting Avenue frat by Amherst police and Amherst Fire Department had to transport her to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, thus tying up an ambulance for an hour.

Hilda Greenbaum seemed to have reservations about upholding the building inspector's order because she "did not like the stereotyping: little girls are better behaved than little boys."

But she was swayed by fellow member Eric Beal, an attorney, who cited the differences in number of health and safety code violations between fraternities and sororities, the allowance of alcohol, and on site management (lacking in fraternities).

The fraternity now has twenty days to appeal the decision of the ZBA in Hampshire Superior Court or they can simply apply to the ZBA for a Special Permit, which is probably cheaper but will require the unanimous vote of all three members for approval. The building commissioner can institute a fine of $100/day to enforce the cease and desist order now that it has been upheld by the ZBA.

Amherst Building Inspector Dave Waskiewicz

Friday, October 14, 2011

Battle of the sexes, continued...

Jeff Bagg, town planner/liaison. ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford, Eric Beal

Last night the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals heard testimony concerning the appeal of a "cease and desist" order by the Amherst Building inspector for a conversion from Sorority to Fraternity at 38 Nutting Avenue on the outskirts of UMass, close to the notorious former Frat Row.

The board made no decision, continuing the public hearing to November 3, as new materials had arrived just that afternoon from opposing attorneys.

According to town attorney Joel Bard, "If the board were to uphold the Building Inspector's determination that a change from a sorority to a fraternity constitutes a change in use under Section 9.22, the Board would need to identify some non-subjective, quantifiable differences between these two institutions. For example, testimony from police and fire departments, or from other Town official documenting the fact that fraternities are a more consistent drain than sororities on the resources of emergency responders or other officials could be a basis for specific findings that the two are different uses."

Maybe they should use my "Party House of Weekend" series, which clearly shows young men are many times more likely to engage in rowdy behavior. Or just go back five or six years when Frat Row was still active. Of course the Frat on the other end of the street--374 North Pleasant--is still active and shows up periodically in the police logs.

Another B-I-G difference between the two is sororities ban alcohol on the premises, obviously frats do not.

Attorney James Heffernan closed his presentation with a thinly veiled threat, pointing out to the three member board that municipal officers who violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment could be sanctioned on a "civil rights" violation.
Attorney James Heffernan

Attorney Bard counters in writing: "There would be no equal protection violation in upholding the Building Inspector's decision unless the Board based its decision solely on subjective, gender-based impressions or opinions instead of identifying quantifiable differences between the two institution."

The sorority had approximately 40 women living together and the frat currently has 30. While the case is under appeal they can continue to call 38 Nutting Avenue home. Last year the building generated $179,000 in rental income and was assessed by the town at $1,087,400.

If the ZBA does not overturn the Building Inspector's order--and it takes a unanimous vote to overturn--the ongoing rowdy student behavior will have chalked up yet another innocent victim.

About 30 people showed for the Public Hearing. Opponents on left, supporters on right

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Million Dollar Decision


Is a fraternity the same as a sorority? If you ask neighbors I'm sure the response would be a resounding "NO". So is allowing one but not the other tantamount to being Un-American--as in violating the equal protection clause contained in the 14th Amendment? We will soon find out.

On August 26 Amherst building inspector Peter Fein issued a "cease and desist order" to the owners of 38 Nutting Avenue, a privately owned UMass sorority (Alpha Chi Omega) since 1964 now wanting to go the all-male route by leasing out the premises to a fraternity (Pi Kappa Phi).

Apparently sororities, like newspapers and telephone booths, are an endangered species.

The building--with an approved occupancy for 60 people--is currently assessed at $1 million, generating $17,000 annually to the town in property taxes and according to the seller generates $179,000 gross annual rental income. If the Zoning Board of Appeals should uphold the building inspector's order and the structure becomes vacant or it should revert to a family dwelling, the assessed value will drop dramatically.

In fact the assessed value already dropped $55,300 from the previous year.

Since the Sorority is located in the same neighborhood as Frat Row--five notorious party houses now demolished--safe bet neighbors will show up to the October 13 Zoning Board public hearing to argue in favor of the town's interpretation of the zoning to prevent the all male transformation.

Stay tuned.

Frat House 374 North Pleasant St, Sunday morning
ZBA October 13, 6:30 PM - 10:00 PM @ Town Room, Town Hall

Alpha Chi Omega – Appeal of the Building Inspector’s Cease and Desist order, regarding the use of the premises as a fraternity house, under Section 10.1 of the Zoning Bylaw, at 38 Nutting Avenue (Map 11A, Parcel 87, R-G Zoning District). ZBA FY2012-00006 – Winnifred Manning – To install a five foot fence within the required front yard setbacks, under Section 6.29 of the Zoning Bylaw, at 61 Fearing Street (Map 11C, Parcel 99, R-G Zoning District).

Sales listing for 38 Nutting Avenue, Amherst

Property card for 38 Nutting Avenue, Amherst

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ZBA approves ABC permit...finally!

Third time was the charm as the ZBA last night, after two annoying continuations, approved by unanimous vote (which was required) the "special permit" necessary to allow the Amherst Brewing Company the right to pay a Connecticut company a lot of money (but essentially the same as what they were paying a local landlord for their smaller downtown location) to transform the former Leading Edge Gym on University Drive into a cozy, comfortable, responsible, adult-oriented--as opposed to rowdy student--brew pub.

Nice way to celebrate St. Patty's Day, eh?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ZBA (almost) approves ABC permit. Sláinte!

Jeff Bagg (Amherst Senior Planner) ZBA: Eric Beal, (Chair) Hilda Greenbaum, Tom Ehrgood

UPDATE: 5:30 am
Apparently I left too early last night (babysitter issues): the ZBA unanimously acknowledged that there are no issues to cause a denial, but never actually came to a formal vote on the special permit...yet. Next Wednesday they will finish up crafting the "conditions" for approval and, hopefully, take the formal vote.

Now you know why it takes so long to get anything done in Amherst!

ORIGINAL REPORT (Thursday night)
9:12 PM

Tonight the omnipotent Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously headed towards approving an ever-so-slight change in usage called a "special permit", crucial for the Amherst Brewing Company to relocate a mile from Amherst town center into a larger, more open commercial space on busy University Drive (so named because it is a main artery to UMass) with a plethora of free parking.

I say omnipotent because the ZBA (appointed by the duly elected five-member Select Board) is essentially the same as a state Governor deciding a death row pardon that requires a unanimous approval from all three sitting members.

This would now make two consecutive business friendly decisions from the ZBA, turning aside organized neighborhood protest lamenting noise, traffic and--in the case of ABC--the all too familiar complaint about potential rowdy student behavior fueled by too much alcohol.

In fact on Monday night, Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe (during a discussion defense for hiring a new Building Inspector to enforce housing health and safety codes) succinctly stated, "There is nothing more important facing the town right now than the quality of life issues in the neighborhoods. The issue of student rentals, student parties...they really affect every single permit application that comes before the ZBA, Planning Board."

She goes on to issue a stern challenge: "This is an area we need to be serious about. Not just for the quality of life for people today, but because of it being an obstacle to making progress for the future."


Attorney Alan Seewald, ABC owner John Korpita

Even the formerly over optimistic folks over at "save our Gym" and revive the Leading Edge seem to agree with my assessment that the ZBA all but approved the permit and will simply dot the i and cross the t on Wednesday:

ZBA March 10th hearing results
The ZBA all but approved ABC's Special Permit application at last night's hearing. On Wed. they will finalize some restrictions and conditions and then it's a done deal.

There is discussion of alternate spaces. It would be a much bigger and more complex project.

Further info to follow.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sign of confidence?

Landlord Barry Roberts must be fairly sure the Amherst Brewing Company will get Zoning Board of Appeals approval at next week's hearing (even with Hilda Greenbaum Chairing) for a move into the former Leading Edge Gym location on University Drive a mile down the road; or--like the smart businessman he is--just hedging his bet.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ABC MIA from Town Center?

Once again the Zoning Board of Appeals seems poised to cast another, gasp, pro-business decision; this time in favor of the Amherst Brewing Company, an established bar/restaurant, to relocate its successful operation a mile from town center into a larger commercial space located on a busy direct route to Umass, the Golden Goose of stable employment for all of Western Massachusetts.Formerly The Leading Edge, aka Gold's Gym

Thus it appears the NIMBYs power to snuff development in Amherst is, finally, beginning to wane--on a couple of major fronts. The ZBA, after a protracted hearing process, allowed the variance required for Dr. Kate Atkinson to practice family medicine in a Professional Research Park, thus she will construct a $2.5 million dollar LEED certified 16,000 square foot building, enhancing the taxbase not to mention providing quality medical care to her thousands of patients.

And last week the public hearing to allow ABC to move into the former Leading Edge Gym location in a larger commercial building a mile down the road seemed to garner major public support--including Stephanie O'Keeffe, the Chair of the Amherst Select Board, and Tony Maroulis , the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and a plethora of patrons far removed from the college aged stereotypes neighbors seem to fear the most.

Those speaking in favor of the variance pointed out the previous tenant, a Health Club operation open 100 hours per week, was far noisier than the brew pub and the Jones Library currently adjacent to ABC has never had complaints about either the noise (and a library would notice) or any odor complaints due to the brewing process or routine cooking.

Meanwhile the Amherst Redevelopment Authority is steaming forward with the Gateway Corridor Project, an urban renewal joint effort between Umass, Amherst and a private tax paying developer to significantly beautify the main corridor connecting the campus to the downtown. We have whittled down the original field of four consultants for the "visioning process" to only two and both will come in to pitch their expertise in person at the next two meetings (in Executive Session.)

The ARA will award the consultant contract by March 1st. The ZBA meets again March 10 to present their decision concerning the ABC. I'll drink to that.

The infamous Anon letter mailed to the neighborhood a few days before the 2/10 ZBA meeting.

Former Amherst Bulletin Columnist Baer Tierkel countered in an email to the Planning Department saying "I received an anonymous letter asking me to write against this move, so be aware that there is a campaign against this move being hatched-anonymously My guess is it is from people who want their Gym (Leading Edge) back , of which I was a member, but do not have a viable plan to make that happen. So they are sabotaging another local business with their anonymous campaign."

They also plan for outdoor dining during the wonderful weather season

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Death Row zoning decision

Jeff Bagg, town planner. ZBA Chair Tom Simpson, Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford.

9:30 PM
The Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals shook off a constant chorus of complaints from nearby neighbors and
unanimously approved a special permit for family practitioner Dr. Kate Atkinson to occupy a 16,000 square foot LEED certified building she plans to construct in a Professional Research Park on the outskirts of Amherst Woods, an upscale neighborhood where Dr. Atkinson also resides.

The $2.5 million building will add to Amherst's anemic commercial taxbase (currently under 10%) while keeping a vital service in town.
########Live Blogging########Live Blogging######

The Zoning Board of Appeals is like the Governor in that they decide if a business venture will live or die. Tonight they play that role to the hilt. Holding off their final decision about whether Dr. Kate Atkinson, a general practitioner in the endangered field of family medicine, can build a larger facility in her hometown, in an research park until this final meeting of 2010.

Starts 7:30 PM. (On time). No public comment tonight, just a discussion of the board.

Hilda Greenbaum is concerned about adding additional office space when there are currently vacancies in the stock of town commercial properties now. (And of course Ms. Greenbaum would know as she owns a fair amount of property in town.)

Also concerned that the second floor would, gasp, also be occupied by medical practitioners thus turning the building into a "medical center."

Dr. Kate could add one medical employee and house them in the upstairs location but they would be limited to only 22 hours of operation. Ms Greenbaum wants to know how that would be enforced--especially during flu season when that provider may be, God forbid, tempted to stay in the office and put in extra hours.

Tom Simpson and Jeff Bagg both respond that it would be the job of the building commissioner to enforce the hours of operation.

Dr Kate: I do a lot of work from home on the computer.

Building commissioner Bonnie Weeks: "I don't think the bylaw is greatly concerned with a once in a while thing--especially if an emergency. As long as they routinely keep track of their hours it should be easy to see if they remain complaint with the bylaw."

Dr. Kate: We have evening hours now and it's very quiet. Many incidents are handled over the phone.

Hilda: What if she has a weight watchers group after 7:00 PM?

Dr Kate: And that would be bad, why?

Jeff Bagg: Limits on number of people who can occupy that space via conditions.

Tom Simpson: We can limit number of days for after-hours usage in upstairs meeting room by condition. Say, once a month. We can limit use of exercise room to only employees of the practice.

Dr. Kate: Exercise room is only for employees.

Jeff Bagg likes the idea they are starting to talk about "conditions" rather than voting no.

8:25 They seem satisfied now with hours and use of the upstairs space (with conditions).
Next issue: Retention basin for storm water runoff. Hilda G. wants a fence to protect kids from falling in.

Tom Simpson on the issue of traffic: 13 patients per hour is their max so it's not going to be a huge increase.

Hilda Greenbaum: "If we turned it down due to traffic we would get laughed at."

Jeff Bagg: Traffic study confirms traffic will not see a major increase.

Hilda G: Can this practice support the overhead of that building? (worried that Dr. Kate will belly up and sell to someone else.)

Tom Simpson: That's not our concern.

Tom Simpson: Are we agreed the (medical) use is allowed and acceptable with conditions?

Other two members agree.

8:45 PM

Conditions: Exercise room only for employees. Limited number of full-time employees. If second floor is rented, the tenant must come back to Zoning Board for approval. Fence around the retention basin at least 24" high. 2nd floor meeting room can only be used for educational purposes. Limit of three full-time medical practitioners, total max of 120 hours per week. Permit expires on change of ownership or management.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Above all else, do no harm

ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Tom Simpson, Barbara Ford, Building Commissioner Bonnie Weeks

Tonight the Zoning Board of Appeals continued the public hearing for folks to speak for or against Dr. Kate Atkinson relocating her successful family practice (with about 2,500 patients) from a 2,200 square foot building to a 12,000 square foot building she plans to construct in a Professional Research Park. The planning board has already voted in favor of a building going up. Now the only question is will that commercial building be allowed to house a medical practice.Dr. Kate Atkinson, family practitioner for 11 years and resident of Amherst Woods (neighbor to the NIMBYs)
Site is located between two existing commercial buildings and will be two floors as well.

Yeah, that too is one of those 'Only in Amherst' questions that should take no time at all, but in this case is taking hours on end. After two and half hours of testimony and discussion this evening the board closed the public comment portion but since the room had to be vacated by 10:00 PM continued the hearing to December 28 where they will render their decision, which requires a unanimous vote to pass.

The usual assortment of NIMBYs spoke against the good doctor, citing increased traffic. But a bevy of heavy hitters spoke in favor of Dr Kate: Former Town Moderator and land use planner Francesca Maltese, Barbara Shaffer Bacon who owns property nearby (with business partner Stan Rosenberg) Amherst Redevelopment Authority Chair John Coull and a handful of Town Meeting members who reminded the Zoning Board this concept already passed town meeting by a two-thirds vote.
Francesca Maltese
John Coull

Alan Powell, sidekick to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) Mary Streeter, defended the very concept of NIMBY saying "Who else is going to defend your own backyard?" Maybe he should get a dog.Alan Powell. Proud to be a NIMBY

And former Amherst Wildwood Elementary School Principal Mark Prince was at least honest saying, "I oppose this because it's in my backyard."Mark Prince
Friendly locals indeed