To the editor:
The new zoning proposed for Northampton's urban residential neighborhoods may well give flexibility to owners of one- to four-family homes, but it also gives too much latitude to developers of larger projects. Bad infill can permanently disrupt historic neighborhoods — as residents in Houston, Denver and San Diego have learned to their dismay.
Sad experience has spurred cities like Knoxville, Portland and Toronto to specify in detail what makes for good infill. The North Street Neighborhood Association explores these issues in depth at northassoc.org.
One particular trigger for conflict between residents is inadequate off-street parking. Northampton's proposed zoning would cut parking requirements by as much as half. The Zoning Revisions Committee was not nearly so aggressive in its recommendations, and its caution should be heeded.
The city’s planning staff rightly points to Graves Avenue as an example of successful density that looks good, but the reality is we'll continue to get many less inspiring developments unless our zoning affirms what we really want. Jim Nash, former member of the Zoning Revisions Committee, is absolutely correct when he says, "Moving forward with this zoning package without inserting strong regulations for multi-unit developments is a breach of the public trust from when the infill discussion began, that our neighborhoods would be protected.
"In this zoning package I find such safeguards severely lacking and ask that you not approve them as written."
My name is Adam Cohen. I live on North Street.Comments by Jim Nash
I understand that EDHLU [the Economic Development, Housing and Land Use Committee] recommends that Special Permits be required for developments of 7 units or more.
I support this and encourage you to lower the Special Permit threshold to 5 units.
Larger developments have often been controversial, and it seems clear that residents want more input into these projects, not less. It serves the purpose of Smart Growth to accommodate this.
When residents are ignored, when big, ugly projects spring up next to them, you can't blame them for wanting to sprawl out to the suburbs, using large lots to insulate themselves from adverse change.
This new zoning is not simply about ratifying neighborhoods that were laid down a century ago. For most people today, cars give them critical access to jobs, shopping, and resources in the region. Scarce parking is already an issue on some streets downtown and in Florence Center.
The final report of the Zoning Revisions Committee called for no change in the off-street parking requirements in URA, B and C with respect to 1-4 family homes. These requirements are one space per 500 square feet for each unit.
By contrast, the proposal before you calls for one space per one thousand square feet of Gross Living Area. So in some cases, the off-street parking requirement would be cut by as much as half. This is overly aggressive. It would be better to reduce the off-street parking requirement gradually over a period of years, so the process could be paused if problems arise.
More generally, I'd be reassured if I felt the city was advancing the pro-resident parts of the Sustainable Northampton Plan with as much zeal as the pro-developer parts. In particular, we need more attention to expanding the tree canopy in the infill receiving areas. To me, that means measuring this canopy by ward every year, passing a Significant Tree ordinance to protect the city's old and large trees, protecting the trees that currently buffer properties, and committing to planting a specific number of new trees every year.
Hello, my name is Jim Nash of 18 Montview in Ward 3.
During my time on the Zoning Revisions Committee, I heard a common theme from the citizens of Northampton. People were open to infill development as long as the character of their neighborhood would remain unchanged. Citizens were generally okay with neighbors adding a room, an apartment, sub-dividing a large home, even building on an empty lot.
However, many people voiced a worry that easing our zoning regulations would invite projects that did not fit our neighborhoods, more specifically, multi-unit developments shoehorned into lots without regard to neighborhood layout.
This proposed UR zoning package provides insufficient safeguards around the design and dimensions of multi-unit developments. Furthermore, should this proposal pass as written with decreased frontage requirements, the number of infill opportunities for multi-unit developments will increase markedly. Controversial developments such as that which polarized the North Street neighborhood will soon be coming to neighborhoods throughout the city.
You have undoubtedly heard the analogy that our current zoning would not allow us to build infill models like Cherry Street or Graves Avenue as they are today. This is true. But it is also true that the zoning proposal before you falls well short of this goal as well. Were Graves Avenue an empty 2.5 acre lot, no developer would be required to create the public street we enjoy today.
So what will we get?
In Ward 3, we live with the results of lax design and streetscape regulations. We have multi-unit developments with no sidewalks, that face parking lots and driveways, that have backyards where the side-yard should be, that have front-yards that face neighbors backyards, that have homes on one side of the street and a wood fence or retention basin on the other. Where public space ends and private space begins is anyone’s guess. This is poor urban design. We know this and yet this package does not regulate it, it promotes it.
There is much to like in these proposals. The majority of UR property owners, those who own one to four family homes, will enjoy greater latitude with their investments. However, moving forward with this zoning package without inserting strong regulations for multi-unit developments is a breach of the public trust from when the infill discussion began, that our neighborhoods would be protected.
In this zoning package I find such safeguards severely lacking and ask that you not approve them as written.
Respect neighborhood character & identity. "Lack of identity or a negative identity makes increasing neighborhood density difficult. A development that challenges or changes a community’s identity architecturally or in terms of land use can undermine the very thing that attracts residents to the neighborhood. Diversity of land uses is good but incompatibility is not. Preserve historic resources and urban fabric." Amen to that.
I just want to give everyone a heads-up that a package of rezoning proposals that would, in some instances, substantially increase density in many areas of the city has been introduced to the City Council for tomorrow night's meeting [see proposals]. It is expected the package will be referred to committee. The rezonings primarily impact zoning districts Urban Residential B and Urban Residential C and have some but lesser impact on Urban Residential A. The most affected areas will be in Wards One through Four, areas around downtown Florence, and the downtown area of Leeds. Among other things, the zoning proposals would reduce lot sizes, reduce frontages, allow neighbors to build closer to your side lot line, and in some cases allow substantially higher numbers of units on lots. This is a rather far-reaching set of rezoning proposals, and I suggest you speak with your city councillors to get the specifics about the ways it will impact your wards and your neighborhoods. Among the concerns about this package are the potential loss of lots of green and open space in the most impacted areas, the possibility of developers buying homes in existing neighborhoods and tearing them down to erect as many units as the new zoning would allow, and reduced storm water runoff areas in the city's urban cores.
November 27, 2012
Dear Mayor David Narkewicz, City Council President William Dwight, Ward
3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels, and City Councilor at Large Jesse Adams,
We appreciate the added attention that the Office of Planning and
Development has provided to the citizens of Ward 3 surrounding the
proposed residential zoning changes. The presentation provided by Ms.
Carolyn Misch on October 17th was very informative.
Based on what we heard there a few aspects of the zoning proposals that
concern us and we would like to see them revised.
We do not find that the proposed frontage for URB of 50 feet matches the
realities on the ground. More typically frontages on URB streets are
60 feet or more. One such example is Orchard Street where 60 feet is
the Mean, Median, and Mode. The ZRC recommend 65 feet for URB and we
are confortable with that. A case for reduction to 50 feet has not been
Developments Greater than Four Units in URC
On the edges of Ward 3 URC there is a string of properties that are much
larger than those typically found in the interior of URC. These
properties are along Pomeroy Terrace, Williams Street, and Henry Street.The lots are quite deep and their back lot lines abut farmland or open
space. These are transition properties and have served as such for well
over a hundred years.
Our concern is that the dimensions of these properties are anywhere from
five to fifteen times the size of the minimum lot size proposed for URC,
and under the proposed zoning these properties could be developed into
private ways of multiple single-family homes or condominium projects of
20 units or more. Massing development along the edges of Ward 3 seems
counter to the intent of the proposals as presented of creating density
at the city’s center.
Developments Greater than Three Units in URB
In a related matter, within Ward 3 URB there are various properties
where infill projects of 3 units or more may occur with only Site Plan
Approval. These properties can be found along Lincoln, North,
Northern, Day, Crosby, and Bates. Like the aforementioned URC
properties, we are very concerned we are inviting infill into peoples’
We are not strangers to infill controversies, as demonstrated by the
property owned by Kohl Construction. Due to a recent land court
decision [link], the plans to develop this property are no longer valid.
Flawed public process and the absence of design standards divided
neighbors. We now have an opportunity for a reboot.
It is critical that safeguards be in place before these zoning proposals
move forward. We would like to see the following:
Moving forward on the current zoning proposals without these safeguards
- The development of stricter design standards for large developments that account for appearance, layout, and the way they relate to the existing neighborhood
- A technical study of streetscapes and property dimensions followed by a discussion about zoning map changes for streets inconsistent with their zone
- A clear method for public involvement in all residential zones for projects beyond 4 units in URC and 3 Units in URB
in place is an invitation to future controversy and hard feelings across
the URs, from Leeds to Florence to downtown.
We hope we can count on your support to see that these safeguards are
part of our new zoning. Thank you for your attention to these matters.We look forward to working constructively with our fellow citizens and
city officials towards improving our zoning ordinance.
The Board of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association
cc:Councilor Maureen Carney
Councilor Paul Spector
Councilor Pamela Schwartz
Councilor David Murphy
Councilor Marianne LaBarge
Councilor Eugene Tacy
Northampton Planning Board
Office of Planning and Development