The Gazette published this letter today from ZM member Deborah Christakos:
To the editor:
I live in Ward 3 and was recently made aware of the proposed change in zoning for building seven or more units in the urban residential district surrounding downtown Northampton.
The new zoning will require a special permit process, which includes requirements for pedestrian and bicycle friendly driveways and providing a similar street-scape. However, the new zoning does not require any consideration of the impact of seven or more (it could be 30) units on existing parking, traffic, congestion and green space in a neighborhood.
Furthermore, though the proposed zoning change emerged from Northampton’s 2008 Sustainability Plan, it does not provide any incentives to reclaim, re-purpose or reuse any of the many empty spaces around the URC: for example the former Shaw’s Motel, its parking lot and the adjacent empty residence; the now-vacant St. John Cantius church at the corner of Hawley and Philips Place; and the recently demolished Lia Honda on King Street.
Rather than allow developers to pack many units into residential streets that are full of single-family and multi-unit rentals, the ordinance should first encourage development to fill in the empty spaces that are not in use. This provides efficient use of our city’s space, adds residential capacity, eliminates opportunities for vandalism and improves the city and its neighborhoods aesthetically.
I ask the city councilors to request more specific requirements for building multi-unit dwellings of seven or more units, such as those put forward by the Zoning [Revisions] Committee (made up of developers, neighbors and Planning Committee members). In conjunction with these requirements, the Planning Board and Zoning Committee should create policies which “… encourage(s) infill development of vacant and underutilized land in and around downtown …” (Sustainable Northampton, page 11, Land Use and Development, Objective #3).