Petitioners lack signatures to force Amherst Town Council to revisit parking zone vote


Staff Writer
Monday, January 10, 2022

AMHERST — Petitioners aiming to force the Town Council to revisit its vote that approved a parking facility overlay district appear to have fallen short in their quest.

Despite gathering signatures and submitting the sheets to the town clerk’s office by 4:30 p.m. Monday, those attempting to use the voter-veto provision of the town charter collected only 669 signatures, according to Town Clerk Susan Audette.

Audette said petitioners met the deadline of turning in signatures within 14 days of the council’s action, when on Dec. 20 members voted 9-4 in favor of the rezoning. But even if all signatures are deemed valid, the petitioners needed 810 signatures, or 5% of the voters who participated in the Nov. 2 town election, for the voter veto to proceed.

Under the voter veto, the council would have had to reconsider its vote in support of changing the zoning on the 0.68-acre municipal parking lot between North Pleasant and North Prospect streets if the required amount of signatures had been collected. If the vote then remained unchanged, the topic would go to a townwide vote.

A number of residents, including many who live on North Prospect Street, have raised objections to having a parking garage at the site, bordered by the parish center at St. Brigid’s Church to the north and the CVS Pharmacy parking lot to the south. Councilors who voted in favor of the rezoning, though, said the zoning change gives the town the opportunity to the site out to bid for private development of a garage.

The effort to force reconsideration of the zoning change was the second time the voter veto provision of the town charter has been used. Last April, those concerned with the scope of the Jones Library renovation and expansion used it, though the town clerk’s office ruled that they didn’t collect enough signatures.

The Town Council put the project to a Nov. 2 referendum, at which time 65% of voters gave it support.

Whether town clerk staff or the Board of Registrars will meet to examine the signatures turned in is uncertain. Audette said she is waiting for direction on that from Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Council President Lynn Griesemer.

Bockelman said that since petitioners didn’t collect sufficient signatures, the zoning change went into effect once the calendar turned to Jan. 4.

“The fact is, if you don’t have enough signatures, you don’t have enough signatures,” Bockelman said.

Meanwhile, Audette said residents have pulled sheets to request a zoning change under state law. If that pertains to the same subject, changing the zoning would require a two-thirds majority.

At the first meeting of the newly sworn in Town Council Monday evening, District 4 Councilor Pamela Rooney said she wanted to put the parking facility overlay district as a topic for the Jan. 24 meeting, Rooney said she wants officials to take a more comprehensive look at zoning in downtown and examine more data.