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A decision looms over the parking lot overlay district in downtown Amherst

AMHERST – City council is expected to decide on a new parking overlay district for the city center at its last meeting in 2021 next week.

The district of superimposed parking lots, as well as a modification of the planning rules for mixed-use buildings and the required commercial space on the ground floor, will be on the agenda for the meeting on December 20. The meeting is the last for Councilors who took office in the fall of 2018. Six new Councilors will join seven alternates following a swearing-in ceremony on January 3rd.

Originally postponed by District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont at the December 6 council meeting, DuMont at a meeting last Thursday brought forward a motion to further delay zoning changes using a second charter provision of the city. This article reads as follows: “if, at the next vote on the question, 4 members or more object to the taking of the vote, the question is again postponed for at least 5 additional days”.

DuMont was joined in the postponement by District 1 Councilors Cathy Schoen and Sarah Swartz and District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

Council Chair Lynn Griesemer said with items pushed back until December 20, residents and others are encouraged to continue providing comments and feedback on the proposals.

The idea of ​​the overlay district is to have the city-owned parking lot between North Pleasant and North Prospect streets house a private parking garage. The site, next to another private CVS property, was recommended in a 1990 study by the city and was heavily considered until 1996, before authorities decided to build a garage on the site owned by the city. the Amherst Redevelopment Authority on Boltwood Walk.

The parking garage overlay neighborhood is supported by many in the business community, but residents, primarily those who live on North Prospect Street, have expressed concerns.

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and Amherst Business Improvement District are advocating for rezoning.

House Executive Director Claudia Pazmany said rezoning is essential as the end piece of a Destination Amherst initiative and is “the most important link to keep people in town, to spend time, money and enjoy our vibrant downtown Amherst, strengthening our economic footprint. ”

A petition launched by the House says that “a parking lot will concentrate personal vehicles in the immediate vicinity of shops, restaurants and public services such as the town hall, the community center, the health center and the Jones library”.

Opponents disagree. Ira Bryck of Strong Street is among those who wrote to city council that the site is not the best location for parking:

“As for the garage, it is far from the best location, it will disrupt the quiet enjoyment of a historic district, go against the advice of experts who have studied the Amherst parking situation , is difficult to find and even more difficult to enter and exit, will need the removal of parking that is already functioning well in a residential area, may have been chosen for special interests rather than for the good of our community, and won’t have the setbacks and other restrictions that could make a garage well-designed.

Both zoning changes require a two-thirds majority of city council to pass.

At the end of the November 29 council meeting, where a first reading on the four zoning changes was taken, Pam expressed concern that so many meetings and long conversations were taking place on the zoning, and proposed a motion not to have such topics. high during the holiday season again.

“It ruined my vacation and I know I’m not the only one. I’m really upset about it, ”Pam said.

Schoen said the board agreed to end meetings before 10 p.m., rather than extending them until almost midnight. “I just think what we do to ourselves and what we do to the staff is wearing us out,” Schoen said.

Griesemer said this December would be unusual. “I would say never again because I don’t like him better than you do,” Griesemer said.

But she said the long meetings were the result of advisers speaking without worrying about time constraints.

“I have to return this to you. Keep control of your time, ”said Griesemer.

District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis said the zoning changes must be voted on. “I’m a little tired of people saying we don’t need to do this. De Angelis also slammed those who spoke out against District 4 Councilor Evan Ross and District 3 Councilor George Ryan, key supporters of the Overlay District who failed to win new terms.

“We have to respect each other and that starts with respecting each other and limiting what we say to what’s important, not saying the same thing six times because you want to make your point,” De said. Angelis. “I’m sorry, but I needed to say it. ”

Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]

Tags : city centercity councilparking lots
Deena S. Hawkins

The author Deena S. Hawkins