house in the making?
To the Bulletin:
The Dec. 14 Bulletin ran an editorial on the impact of new rules governing rental properties in Amherst. The editorial noted that “Because students and longtime residents have different lifestyles, especially on weekends, there has been friction...” Indeed, as a resident of Amherst, I can attest to the noise, litter and traffic generated by student rentals.
One of the most direct steps that the town can take is through the special permit process. The Amherst bylaws state that the “Special Permit review process is intended to insure a harmonious relationship between proposed development and its surroundings.” The Zoning Board of Appeals needs to stop giving out special permits for high-density conversions like candy and start considering how they impact neighborhoods.
On Jan. 10, the ZBA was scheduled to hear a request for a special permit for 179 Northampton Road to allow a two-apartment development, with up to four bedrooms per apartment. This lot is at the corner of Northampton Road and Blue Hills Road, and it sits across from a student rental on Blue Hills that already generates headaches — and calls to the police. Blue Hills Road and 179 Northampton Road are zoned for single-family homes. Indeed, Blue Hills Road is populated with families, many with small children, who get up early and do not party late.
The developer can, by right, put a house on the lot for accommodating four unrelated residents. This would provide useful housing for students and fair revenue for the developer. If the ZBA allows the developer to put housing for up to eight unrelated people on the lot, the board may serve as the midwife at the birth of a new nuisance house. Dense concentrations of student rentals encourage wilder behavior, more traffic and bigger parties. The worst place to put a dense concentration of students is near other problem houses.
Let’s put the “special” back in the special permit process. The ZBA should follow the bylaw for special permits and approve the two-unit development only if the proposal “would not constitute a nuisance due to ... noise,” “would not be a substantial inconvenience or hazard to abutters” and “is compatible with existing uses.” (Amherst Zoning Bylaw, Section 10).
Idea on best course
for village centers
To the Bulletin:
I would like to set the record straight. In summarizing the top local headlines of 2012 the Bulletin stated that Town Meeting rejected, for the second time, rezoning that would have promoted “so called infill development” in North Amherst and Atkins Corner. The writer was correct in the use of quotation marks, since infill involves “building and developing in vacant areas in city centers and urban settings.” Neither North Amherst nor Atkins Corner can be described as city centers, so it was right and proper that Town Meeting not support the proposed rezoning which could have resulted in seriously dense residential development in areas entirely unsuitable for such development and incompatible with the existing neighborhoods.
It is further claimed that the supporters of the rezoning lost the chance to provide more housing options for families and senior citizens as well as to increase commercial activity in “village centers.” On the contrary, in North Amherst the existing commercial zoning allows “mixed use” development recommended by the Master Plan as the heart of village centers. Mixed use allows the development of residential units over much needed business, light industry and services. Such residential units are entirely appropriate for families seeking reasonably priced units close to outdoor recreation or senior citizens seeking energy-efficient, one-floor living (with elevator), balcony views of the surrounding hills, convenience to public transport and local services.
Those opposed to the rezoning in North Amherst were not opposed to change. They fully recognized the need for change in an area that has been allowed to deteriorate under the weight of majority student rentals. The ideas developed in the initial charrette did not call for rezoning. They called for revisions to traffic patterns, bike paths, safe and attractive pedestrian walkways and improved lighting and public transportation. They also cited the need for respectful maintenance and re-use of existing historic buildings, protection and promotion of the natural resources and mixed use development responsive to the surrounding agricultural and hill communities and to the student community that together give life to the town of Amherst.
Valley bells rang to mark Proclamation anniversary
To the Bulletin:
Thank you for your coverage of local events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1.
This event was more than two gatherings in Florence and Amherst. Over 25 churches and colleges throughout the state (and two out-of-state churches) also rang their bells to mark this important event. We would like to thank the following local institutions for their participation:
University of Massachusetts Amherst; Amherst College (Johnson Chapel and Stearns Tower); Grace Episcopal Church (Amherst); Belchertown United Church of Christ; First Church of Deerfield; Peace Pagoda (Leverett); Moores Corner Schoolhouse (North Leverett); Pelham Historical Society; Wendell Meetinghouse; and churches in Ashfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Plainfield and Worthington.
Ms. Ziegenbein is with the David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies.
Air-quality problems can be self-inflicted
To the Bulletin:
There are a lot of great things about living in the Pioneer Valley, but unfortunately the air quality is not one of them. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, our region is in serious “non-attainment,” which has very real consequences for our health and quality of life. True, much of the Valley’s pollution problems are the result of northward drift from more developed areas to our south.
However, at this time of year there are plenty of reminders that much of this malaise is self-inflicted. A recent edition of “Earth Talk” in the Gazette pointed out that some compounds in dryer sheets have been linked to cancer.
Similarly, wood stoves, viewed by many as a natural form of heating, emit carcinogens similar to those identified in cigarette smoke. Although oil burners have a host of ills, at least they are tested and tuned in a standardized way to prevent the emission of the dangerous compounds that come from improperly operated wood stoves. Next time you toss a dryer sheet in or damp down your stove for the night, consider whether the non-static cling or the modest dip in your heating bill are worth dosing yourself, your kids and your neighbors with compounds that could lead to asthma attacks or lung cancer.
David I. King