Shalini Bahl-Milne: Downtown Development: Equity, Environment & Economy

Thursday, November 01, 2018
Downtown Development: Equity, Environment & Economy

Downtown development is a hot topic in Amherst — with good reason. Most of us want to preserve what we love about Amherst while balancing the need for change, and there’s plenty of change underway downtown. It’s a complex, nuanced topic. My District 5 opponent Darcy Dumont suggests a solution: a moratorium on development. I understand the well-intentioned appeal of such a solution, but I think, ultimately, it is shortsighted. Halting development simply eliminates one link in a web of tightly connected issues and threatens to hinder progress in other areas. Climate change, affordable housing, and property taxes are the three interconnected issues, and I hear about them all the time while speaking with town residents.

On climate change, there’s ample evidence that cities and towns need to fill the gaping leadership void from Washington, D.C. Prominent urban planning researchers are promoting compact development (like that taking place in downtown Amherst) to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, in Amherst, housing supply is simply not keeping pace with demand, thereby creating a housing market shortage for working people who can’t match the income that a rental house can generate. Relatedly, Amherst’s high property taxes are of concern to residents, while the quality of service we receive from these taxes — whether on elementary education, fire services, libraries, the DPW, and more — is frequently not meeting community standards. New developments concentrated downtown and in our village centers open up housing for working families in neighborhoods and help maintain our valuable, beautiful open spaces.

In this context, focusing our efforts on a development moratorium seems not only ineffective, but irresponsible. We can fix some of the concerns regarding new development with new zoning by-laws, such as form-based zoning. But we need to have a broader conversation about development and its connections to these other issues before we simply shut it down. I am listening to everyone for viable solutions that meet our environmental, equity, and economic goals in Amherst. Let’s talk — and act. I’m ready.

Shalini Bahl-Milne

Amherst Town Council candidate, District 5