Four petition articles at TM

  • Kevin Gutting Kevin Gutting

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2018

AMHERST — Another effort to promote creation of affordable housing in downtown Amherst, and a zoning change to discourage residential developments in the most rural parts of town, will be among four petition articles coming before Town Meeting this spring.

The zoning amendments will be joined by a resolution brought by organizers of “Back from the Brink: A Call to Prevent Nuclear War,” a national movement that aims to reduce the risks of a worldwide catastrophe, and a municipal bylaw amendment that would limit when the Norwottuck Fish & Game Club’s gun range can be used.

Town Meeting member Gerry Weiss is behind the push to get more low- and moderate-income housing into town, inspired by the continued failures to amend the town’s inclusionary bylaw, also known as Article 15.

Adopted in 2005 as a way to require projects with 10 or more units to include affordable homes when special permits are needed, an interpretation by a former planning director and legal counsel stated that there is no mandate when circumventing dimensional regulations, only when a special permit is required for use. This has meant that the Boltwood Place and Kendrick Place mixed-use projects and the under construction One East Pleasant, and a permitted project on Spring Street, are exempt from this.

“The result of the current interpretation is that while 221 units have been and/or are permitted to be built, there will not be a single affordable unit required,” Weiss said.

He views his amendment as a compromise, so that affordable units are triggered when a special permit is issued for any use and for building coverage, lot coverage, additional floors and building height, but not for setbacks.

Van Kaynor, of Market Hill Road, is the lead petitioner for a zoning change that would rezone the existing outlying residential zoning to low density residential zoning in “all areas of town neither served by town water nor sewer.”

Kaynor said this is prompted by a recent plan to turn 8 acres of hillside farmland into seven housing lots near Market Hill and Flat Hills roads in the Cushman section, where well and septic issues already exist.

“We have wells and septic systems here, and are at high enough elevation that Amherst’s existing water tower cannot ever supply us by gravity,” Kaynor said. “There is concern that generally RO zoning in outlying areas of town, with wells and septic systems, allows development that could compromise these systems.”

He also observes that this is in keeping with the goals of the town master plan, which states the importance of the environmental and scenic value of rural landscapes, and directing residential growth to downtown and village centers.

Meanwhile, the article focused on nuclear weapons is being brought by Lynda Faye, a member of the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Faye said the article is identical to one adopted by the Northampton City Council in November.

The five components of the petition include renouncing the option of nuclear weapons first, ending the president’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack, taking United States nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, canceling plans for the United States to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons, and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

“Given the current situations, given our current administration, to have someone’s finger on the button and his sole responsibility, is terrifying,” Faye said.

Faye said she was inspired by Ira Helfand, co-founder and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 and who has been the a member of the steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which successfully pushed for a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was reached in July at the United Nations and adopted by 122 countries.

Faye said Helfand has explained some of the consequences of using the weapons, including the potential for a nuclear winter and widespread devastation with nuclear bombs more powerful than the atomic bombs used in World War II.

“The catastrophic potential is amazing,” Faye said.

The last petition, if passed, would mean the firing range at the Norwottuck Fish & Game Club could only be used between April 1 and Nov. 1, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., without being subject to fines under the town’s noise bylaw.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.