Thursday, May 04, 2006

Working my way through the warrant

More pre-TM consideration of the articles. To open a copy of the warrant in another window, right-click here and choose “Open in New Window.” For my pre-TM analysis of articles 1-17, click here, or for a review of the first night of TM and the first 12 articles, click here. As always, I welcome your comments or persuasive arguments.

Article 18 – This deals with a technical correction to the language of the Section 6.0 Overview in the zoning bylaw, fixing an outdated reference to where to find the details for modification to dimensional regulations. I will support this.

Article 19 – This article seeks to add language to the zoning bylaw regulating where drive-through facilities can be located. The language and details of zoning are complicated, and I am new to this, so I will learn much more about this article during its discussion at TM than I can learn on my own. My first instinct on reading this though is that it feels hyper-regulatory. If I understand it correctly, it is primarily dealing with potential drive-throughs that are “accessory to Principal Uses,” as opposed to gas stations and car washes, for which they call drive-throughs “part of the Principal Uses.” So I think we’re talking about the ability to add a drive-through to a business that already exists (perhaps a pharmacy or a bank) or regulating a potential drive-through at a potential business that is otherwise already allowed under zoning. (So it is not about whether you could stick a drive-through donut shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood – it is about whether in the districts where donut shops are already allowed, might they also have drive-throughs. I think.) So if I’m right, then that is why this seems hyper-regulatory to me. If the business is already allowed, then why really is a drive-through contentious? One answer would be downtown, where if every bookstore and tattoo parlor had a drive-through, that would negatively impact the pedestrians on the sidewalk. But then, is adding drive-throughs to bookstores and tattoo parlors and other downtown-type businesses really a big likelihood, such that we would need to legislate them out of pre-existence when common sense would already take care of that? I will need to hear more about this before I can determine my vote.

(And this is another business thing, so . . . my dad, the Chamber, blah blah. Do I really need to cite that all the time, or can we assume that you as the reader already know, will know if you read enough of the blog, or simply don’t care? Some have said I’m in danger of making way too big a deal out of that. But with so much TM talk about conflict of interest, I guess I just want to be transparent. What do you think? Let me know.)

Article 20 – I don’t seem to have the description sheet from the planning board about this article, but according to my notes from the warrant review meeting, this is essentially a technical correction to details in the zoning bylaw to account for the fact that residences located over businesses don’t need to have the same lot dimension requirements as residences in non-business areas. Or something like that. I remember Aaron Hayden saying that as an unintended consequence of the current language, many existing residences over businesses wouldn’t be legal, and they want to fix that. Assuming that discussion shows this to be the general gist of this article, I will support it.

Article 21 – This deals with re-zoning several parcels on South East Street, at the intersection of College Street, from R-N (Neighborhood Residence) to B-VC (Village Center Business) and COM (Commercial,) and portions of two parcels from COM to R-N. This will rationalize and improve the zoning in this area. It will fix several properties that currently include portions with two different zoning designations, and it will allow for “a broader mix of commercial and denser residential uses on these properties,” according to the Planning Board. I think it is a great idea. And all the affected property owners support it. This is an area that is already commercial, with the bank and gas station and other shops on Route 9. Encouraging rational “Village Center” development in this area is good for economic development, good for neighbors who will have walkable access to more goods and services, and good for the property owners who won’t be stuck with outdated residential designations in an area that has grown less appealing for pure residential purposes. This is the kind of positive-outcome business-friendly action that Amherst needs. I will absolutely support this.

Article 22 – This is an effort to rezone a section of South East Street near Mill Lane in order to prevent pending condominium development. While I sympathize with the neighbors who have brought this petition article, I cannot support it. First of all, it is a blatant example of two common and unproductive local attitudes: classic NIMBY-ism, and “nothing can ever change – everything must stay the same.” Secondly, the planning board has pointed out and the petitioners acknowledge that because the developer has already filed plans for this land, its current zoning is “frozen” for eight years from that filing date, and hence he can develop the land, regardless of whether this zoning change is made or not. I will be interested to hear the petitioners’ rationale for pursuing this in light of that reality. The Planning Board said it perfectly in their written report to TM: “. . . this article is clearly an attempt to stop a specific project, rather than a careful consideration of the land use needs of this area or the community, . . . Reaction is not a sound basis for amending the Official Zoning Map.” I will oppose this article.

More soon.