Infill Regulations

Letter in Gazette from Adam Cohen: Northampton has its own models on smart development

Today’s Gazette features this letter from ZM member Adam Cohen (links added):

To the editor:

I would like to thank Northampton City Councilors Ryan O’Donnell and Gina-Louise Sciarra for their recent discussion on zoning [video] for larger infill projects.

Like many at the forum, I walked away concerned that we are moving forward with too little regulation, with only vague language to guide the Planning Board in evaluating how new developments will fit in to their surroundings.

As I voiced at the forum, I believe we have the guidelines we need right in our backyard. The Elm Street Historic District was formed to ensure that infill projects there harmonize with the rest of this beautiful city corridor. Elm Street’s Design Standards state, “When designating a district, the goal is not to freeze it in time, but to assure that when new building does occur, it is in a manner that reflects an understanding of and a compatibility with the existing character of the neighborhood…”

The Elm Street regulations include guidance on site patterns, building heights and how structures relate to what’s next to them. We also have the design guidelines for The Village at Hospital Hill, the development on the grounds of the old state hospital.

This booklet from 2003 has 33 pages of Traditional Neighborhood Design, with plenty of diagrams to assist developers, city planners and the general public when considering large infill projects. The best part about these guidelines is they are not unfamiliar or unvetted.

Local developers, planning staff, and property owners have been using them for years. I urge our city councilors, Planning Board members and planning staff to extend the principles in these guidelines beyond Elm Street and Village Hill, and apply them to all the infill receiving areas in Northampton.

This will give us growth that’s smart, fair, and harmonious.

Adam Cohen

Infill Meetings

Letter in Gazette from Kathleen Daly & Julie Kurose: Northampton should extend moratorium on certain development

Today’s Gazette features this letter from ZM members Kathleen Daly and Julie Kurose:

To the editor:

We are a group of concerned neighbors residing in Wards 3 and 4 of Northampton who have formed an ad hoc committee to build awareness on a zoning issue mentioned in the Gazette this past spring (“As moratorium nears end, Northampton eyes new residential zoning for larger projects,” April 10).

The moratorium refers to a hold on issuing building permits for larger residential projects while the Planning Board fine-tunes the language of the regulations to impose greater design and layout standards on any development calling for the construction of seven or more units.

Central to our group’s concerns is how this new zoning language will affect the eventual development of the Fort Hill/Lyman Estate, roughly 15 buildable acres in the center of town now owned by Smith College. Separate public meetings have taken place to discuss both the zoning language and the Lyman development, yet these two issues are inextricably linked. We feel that the consequences of large-scale development have not been thoroughly addressed in the language of the new regulations. Some examples of these include new access roads, increased traffic in our neighborhood of narrow streets and stress to utilities (water, sewer, stormwater).

The Ordinance Committee is scheduled to finalize and advance its decisions to the City Council Sept. 22. While we applaud the significant effort that has gone into crafting the principal guidelines for Smart Growth, we urge the committee to extend the moratorium to the end of the year to continue work on the new ordinances, while we continue to explore successful models from other cities.

City councilors Ryan O’Donnell (Ward 3) and Gina-Louise Sciarra (Ward 4) will sponsor a public forum on rules governing large building projects on Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Hearing Room on the second floor of City Hall.

We appreciate their work and their efforts to generate greater public awareness of the issues involved. As the decisions regarding the new zoning regulations will affect development in all neighborhoods going forward, we urge the Gazette to continue its coverage of these proceedings.

Kathleen Daly
Julie Kurose

This letter was also signed by five other residents of Wards 3 and 4 in Northampton.


September 3 Zoning Forum: Setting Rules for Building Big

We encourage you to attend this public forum the Wednesday after Labor Day:

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014


Hearing Room – 2nd Floor, City Hall

210 Main St, Northampton

Sponsored by Ward 3 Councilor Ryan O’Donnell

& Ward 4 Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra


Currently, a moratorium is in place for the development of building projects of seven or more units in two urban residential zoning districts, pending the finalization of special permit criteria that such projects must adhere to.

These criteria are a chance to describe a vision of future development for our city and to spell out many of the values that matter to us in that process such as affordability, the environment, open space and the basic geography of our communities.

Since January, the city has undertaken a public process to evaluate these design criteria in order to address concerns and ensure that the goals for the city will be met.

This forum is a continuation of that process and an opportunity to voice your thoughts and ideas in advance of September 22nd, when the Ordinance Committee will be meeting to consider these regulations and possibly vote to advance them to the City Council.

Learn more on Councilor O’Donnell’s Facebook page.


Deborah Christakos Letter in Gazette: Northampton needs to take closer look at infill plans

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).

Deborah Christakos



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