AMHERST – A series of zoning changes, including one that could provide the opportunity for a private developer to build the second parking garage in downtown Amherst, continues to move forward.
Despite numerous oral and written calls for city council to stop the rezoning process – one resident comparing the scheduling of many public meetings during the holiday season to Chicago-style politics ‘shenanigans’ – councilors held the premieres readings on zoning changes Monday.
Council President Lynn Griesemer said when voters adopted the city’s new charter in 2018, they wanted full-time, year-round government. The council, Griesemer said, has an obligation to put each of the zoning changes to positive or negative votes, and not wait for the new council to sit in January.
During the public comment period, which lasted approximately 90 minutes, many residents of the North Prospect Street neighborhood objected to a proposed overlay neighborhood for the construction of a parking lot in the parking lot between North Pleasant and North Pleasant Streets. North Prospect, adjacent to the private CVS Pharmacy lot.
Critics have argued that the rezoning is sponsored by District 3 Councilor George Ryan and District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, whose terms will end in January after being defeated in nominations for re-election. Councilors put forward the idea of a second garage to join the Boltwood parking garage as part of a Destination Amherst plan in coordination with the Amherst Business Improvement District and the Area Chamber of Commerce. ‘Amherst.
Griesemer said there was no evidence the community was against the parking lot.
“The argument that people have spoken needs further consideration,” said Griesemer, observing that Ross and Ryan were only 50 votes combined to win a second term.
The parking facility overlay district would not change the underlying general zoning district from the residence to the business headquarters, but would establish specific guidelines for the use of the site only for a parking garage. Other zoning changes under discussion include extending alfresco dining and other pandemic-related initiatives until 2022, lowering the threshold in mixed-use buildings to 30% commercial space, and lowering the threshold in mixed-use buildings to 30% commercial space and have specific parking requirements for all dwellings.
Senior planner Nathaniel Malloy said that with the parking lot rezoning, a 270-space garage could fit on the site and be similar in size to the one in downtown Greenfield.
General Councilor Andy Steinberg said the rezoning was only to allow the site to be used for a garage. Steinberg said if other sites for a garage were looked at it would be the responsibility of a future council.
Centralizing parking is a concept supported by At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke, who said she wants protections for the city and neighborhoods as well. These could be subject to conditions in the call for tenders for the new car park.
District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber said a well-designed parking garage could be nicer than a deteriorating paved lot.
But District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said she would never accept a parking garage built in front of 19th-century homes.
“There is no way to make a parking structure compatible with a historic district,” Pam said, adding that she saw a flawed process. “It’s ruinous for the adjacent residential neighborhood.”
District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz said councilors must listen to neighbors and moving parking near homes is hypocritical action after councilors voted to eliminate parking in front of town hall as part of the move. the restoration of North Common.
Many who spoke criticized the council for pursuing zoning changes after the election. Barbara Pearson of Paige Street said the busy schedule of meetings reminded her of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s boss-style Chicago politics. “I can’t think of a good reason why this is happening,” Pearson said.
“It doesn’t have to be,” said Rani Parker of 24 North Prospect, who requested a community impact assessment before the zoning change.
Harry Peltz of 32 North Prospect called the zoning changes “hasty judgment” and said too little research was being done. Likewise, Suzannah Muspratt of 38 North Prospect said the board is shortening normal procedures. and Jay Silverstein of 32 North Prospect said the residents were “cheated”.
Ira Bryck of Strong Street said council is making zoning changes without transparency and should take a break until new councilors are sworn in. He was joined by Ken Rosenthal of Sunset Avenue, who said any action should be delayed until January.
Defenders of the parking lot, including Sharon Povinelli, a North Amherst resident who co-owns AJ Hastings, called on councilors to act. “Businesses need destination parking,” Povinelli said.
BID Executive Director Gabrielle Gould said the zoning change was meant to look to the future and more parking could lead to the success of restaurants, performing arts venues, including the relaunched future Drake. and an expanded Jones library.
At Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said one of the lingering questions was whether the Boltwood Parking Garage, opened in September 2002 with a surface level and a basement level, could easily have additional parking floors . It is understood that the garage was built in such a way that it could accommodate such an extension. Planning director Christine Brestrup said the city would likely need to hire a structural engineer to determine the feasibility of adding floors.
Brewer also noted that the idea of building a parking lot in the Amity Street parking lot across from the Jones Library, where the Amherst Academy once stood, is often mentioned. Brewer said it is possible that the deed restrictions prohibit building a garage there. The poet Emily Dickinson and the founder of Mount Holyoke College, Mary Lyon, were both taught at this school.
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected].