North Street Neighborhood Association

Supreme Judicial Court for Massachusetts Denies Kohl Construction's Application for Further Appellate Review

With this brief email message, the state's Supreme Judicial Court declined to review decisions by Land Court and the Appeals Court against Kohl Construction and its affiliates. Kohl desired to use a private driveway owned by others to provide access to a portion of a condo project proposed off of North Street.

Subject: FAR-22301 - Notice: FAR denied
   Supreme Judicial Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

RE:    Docket No. FAR-22301


Land Court No. 08 MISC 374551
A.C. No. 2013-P-0017


Please take note that on April 2, 2014, the above-
captioned Application for Further Appellate Review was denied.

Francis V. Kenneally, Clerk

Dated: April 2, 2014

To:  Alan Seewald, Esquire
Michael Pill, Esquire

Video: North Street Residents Discuss Concerns with Councilor Ryan O'Donnell

North Street residents had a public meeting with Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan O'Donnell on 3/25/14 to discuss neighborhood concerns, notably speeding, congestion on narrow roads, and excessive truck traffic. Here is a YouTube video of the complete meeting recorded by Ruth McGrath. It's 1 hour and 11 minutes long.

Residents Wendy and David Newton helped organize the meeting and distributed this handout summarizing a number of the concerns.

North Street Concerns - March 2014

Appeals Court Affirms Land Court Decision Against Kohl Construction

NSNA is pleased to announce that the Appeals Court of Massachusetts has affirmed an earlier decision by Land Court against Kohl Construction and its affiliates. The developer sought to access Units 13-18 of its proposed condos off North Street via a shared private driveway. Land Court ruled that Kohl Construction may not do this without the permission of those who own the driveway.

Appeals Court Affirms Land Court Decision Against Kohl Construction

See also:

Breaking News: Land Court Rules in Favor of North Street Plaintiffs (10/25/12)

Letter to Gazette from Jim Nash: Northampton zoning package lacks design standards

Jim Nash, a former member of Northampton's Zoning Revisions Committee, has an excellent letter in today's Gazette. Here is an excerpt:
What is missing from this zoning package are design standards, regulations that ensure that when development occurs it adheres to our urban streetscape and neighborhood sensibilities. Such regulations are even more important for larger projects. Roadways should not be in setbacks. Structures should be not built on parking lots. Walkways should be required. City blocks should be encouraged. Northampton urban development should look like the Northampton we love, not a collection of townhouses on parking lots in anywhere USA.

Our Office of Planning and Development has had its opportunity to allay citizen concerns but has chosen to minimize impacts rather than present real solutions. Instead of learning from past infill mistakes, this zoning pretends the problems never existed. Approving this package as it stands will invite a new era of contentious residential development from downtown to Bay State, Florence, and Leeds. The discord that accompanied the North Street development will be coming to a neighborhood near you.
See also:

Letter to Gazette: Northampton's new zoning proposal lacks safeguards

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?

Video: Northampton Property Tax Override Forum

Here is a YouTube video of the complete Northampton Property Tax Override Forum sponsored by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association on June 19. This recording was made by Ruth McGrath. W3NA president Jerry Budgar describes the format of the forum:
Mayor David Narkewicz will speak in favor of the override and Ward 7 City Councillor Gene Tacy will speak in opposition. The forum will begin with each speaker having up to five minutes to make an opening presentation. For the next hour, the speakers will answer questions from the audience, with each speaker getting two minutes, in rotating order, to respond to the issue raised. During the last half hour of the forum, audience members will be given two minutes to discuss why they either support or oppose the override, with alternating "pro" and "con" statements. The president of the Association, Jerry Budgar, will serve as moderator for the forum. The vote on the override proposal will occur on Tuesday, June 25th.
See also:

Gazette: "Voters sound off on proposed $2.5 million tax override at Northampton forum" (6/20/13)

Gazette: "Balancing the books: Northampton grapples with override implications" (6/21/13)

Gazette: "Reader opinions: What's at stake in Northampton's Prop. 2½ override vote June 25" (6/19/13)

Letter to Gazette: Northampton's new zoning proposal lacks safeguards

Today's Daily Hampshire Gazette includes this letter from NSNA member Adam Cohen. Links have been added for convenient reference.
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

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."

Adam Cohen

See also:

Residents Express Concerns about Rezoning at Ordinance/Planning Board Meeting

Video: Planning Board Advances Urban Residential Zoning Proposals

Northampton's Planning Board approved zoning changes for urban residential districts URA, URB and URC. The package includes an amendment to require Special Permits for developments of 7+ units. The proposal will next be revisited by the City Council's Ordinance Committee at its June 10 meeting.

Here is a YouTube video of the Planning Board meeting recorded by Ruth McGrath (see agenda). The zoning discussion begins at 1:11:05.

See also:

Residents Express Concerns about Rezoning at Ordinance/Planning Board Meeting

Residents Express Concerns about Rezoning at Ordinance/Planning Board Meeting

Here is a YouTube video of the complete May 13 meeting of Northampton's Committee on Elections, Rules, Ordinances, Orders & Claims, followed by a joint meeting of the committee with the Planning Board. Here is the agenda of these meetings. This video was recorded by Ruth McGrath.

The joint meeting with the Planning Board begins at 0:53:44 on the video. At issue were proposed ordinances intended to advance higher density urban residential zoning. While some residents spoke in favor of the ordinances, others expressed concerns about parking, reduced public input into larger proposals, and large projects that could alter neighborhoods that residents are presently satisfied with.

Below is the text of remarks by Adam Cohen (a member of NSNA) and Jim Nash (a member of the Zoning Revisions Committee, which issued its final report in 2011). 
Comments by Adam Cohen
My name is Adam Cohen. I live on North Street.

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.

Thank you.
Comments by Jim Nash
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.

If you share any of these concerns, communicate them to your City Councilor as soon as possible.

Atlantic Cities: "16 Rules for 'Smarter' Smart Growth"

This Atlantic Cities article is a good read, especially item 5:
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.

See also:

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?

Suburban 'Raise the Drawbridge' Sentiment Motivates Some Smart Growth Policies
Prince William newcomer Greg Gorham, a software developer, moved from another Virginia suburb because a builder constructed 20 townhouses on land next to him. "That was the thing I really didn't want to have happen to me again," said Gorham. 

May 13 Public Hearing on Proposed Zoning Changes in Residential A, B, C Neighborhoods

From Northampton's Office of Planning and Sustainability:

Proposed zoning amendments in the residential districts have been submitted to City Council. These changes reflect the ongoing conversation about modifying regulations to reflect the existing neighborhood districts surrounding Florence Center, downtown Northampton and neighborhoods in between. The official proposal for public hearing has been modified from the draft version that was distributed during the public forums in September 2012 to reflect comments, concerns and issues.  

The proposed changes are available for viewing at under "Hot Topics"

Northampton Public Hearing
Monday May 13, 2013
Council Chambers, 212 Main St, Northampton

Committee on Elections, Rules, Ordinances joint with Planning Board

7:00 PM 
Proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendments to allow new housing based on historical neighborhood patterns in the following residentially zoned districts:  URA including- combine use & dimension tables, changes to lot size, frontage, design/layout standards, open space, parking; URB and URC including- combine use & dimension tables, changes to lot size, frontage, setback, design/layout, open space, parking
Proposed Ordinance change to 6.8 to allow more than one principal structure on a lot, eliminate projections into setbacks.

Carolyn Misch, AICP 
Senior Land Use Planner/Permits Manager
City of Northampton Office of Planning & Development
210 Main St, Room 11
Northampton, MA  01060

See also:

President of W3NA Comments on Introduction of Ordinances to Increase Density