April 17, 6pm: Mayor, City Council, and Planning Board to Discuss Sustainable Rezoning Committee

An important public meeting concerning the Sustainable Northampton Plan is on tap for Thursday, 6pm in City Council Chambers (212 Main Street). The Planning Board will meet with the Mayor and City Council to discuss forming a Sustainable Rezoning Committee. This committee would suggest new zoning laws that could change Northampton neighborhoods considerably. In particular, it might ratchet up density in existing neighborhoods and consume greenspace there. Combined with Northampton’s new Wetlands Ordinance, which permits wetlands buffers as narrow as 10 feet in many areas, there are serious implications for property values, taxes, neighborhood character, livability, the environment, flooding, traffic, even safety and security.

Below are the Planning Department’s comments on this upcoming meeting. We urge concerned citizens to attend.

Mayor, City Council, and Planning
Board – Joint Meeting: Thursday April 17, 2008

Staff Report Submitted Wayne Feiden,
AICP, Director of Planning and Development, 4/14/2008


The joint meeting is to
provide an opportunity for the Mayor, City Council, and the Planning Board to
identify the process of moving forward on zoning changes to implement necessary
zoning changes to support the
Sustainable Northampton
Comprehensive Plan.

The usual steps for zoning
changes are:

1.      A zoning ordinance is introduced in City Council,
typically by the Planning Board.  Other
boards and departments can introduce zoning changes.

2.      City Council refers the zoning change to the
Planning Board and City Council Ordinance Committee for a public hearing and
typically to the Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and Land Use for
their recommendations.

3.      Public Hearings are advertised in the
newspaper and on the city’s website and planning listserv.

4.      Planning Board and Ordinance Committee hold a
joint public hearing.

5.      Ordinance and EDHLU hold public meetings and
public comments are welcome.

6.      Public comments can be made during the City
Council public comment period.

7.      City Council votes on the zoning.


In addition to these steps, Sustainable Northampton, adopted by the
Planning Board and endorsed by City Council, recommends:

a Rezoning Committee comprised of officials and community representatives as
selected by the Mayor, City Council, and Planning Board.  Task the Committee with rezoning the city so
that zoning is consistent with the Sustainable Northampton and Future Land Use
Map. A listing of zoning changes to be considered by the rezoning committee is
included in Appendix A of this Plan.


In anticipation of the April
17th joint meeting, the Planning Board discussed the rezoning
process and asked OPD to write up their areas of consensus and issues to be

1.      Routine zoning changes not related to
implementing the plan should continue to follow the existing process and not be
referred to this new ad-hoc committee.

2.      Both the Planning Board and the ad-hoc
Sustainable Rezoning Committee should feel free to introduce Sustainable Northampton-related zoning
changes at the conceptual level.  Any
such zoning change should be referred to the other committee for additional
discussion and recommendations.  The
Rezoning Committee should be intimately involved in the conceptual level of

3.      Once there is a consensus between the two
committees at the conceptual level, the Planning Board should fulfill their
traditional role in approving the fleshed out zoning change and introducing it
to City Council.  The Rezoning Committee
should focus on conceptual level and not the line-by-line language already
addressed by the existing process.

4.      The Rezoning Committee should be a small
committee to ensure that the process is efficient and that the public process
is not replaced by the committee process. 
The core membership should be made up of the appointing boards.  Planning Board did not recommend specific
membership, but discussed something like:

a.       Two City Councilors, selected by City Council
as a whole.

b.      Two Planning Board members, selected by the
Planning Board as a whole.

c.       The Mayor or her designee

5.      The Rezoning Committee needs to bring in the
voice of additional community stakeholders, but not replace the usual public
process.   Three options:

a.       Include a large number of community
stakeholders on the Rezoning Committee for very broad discussion.  Planning Board members voiced very strong
opposition to this approach.  They
expressed concern that if a large Rezoning Committee becomes THE process, only
those who can attend multiple meetings would really be represented and the
process would bog down.

b.      Include some small number of stakeholders
(maximum of three) representing clear constituent groups, e.g., existing neighborhoods,
environmental interests (possibly represented by a member of the Conservation
Commission, and economic development interests) on the committee; AND/OR

c.       Inviting other stakeholder constituent groups
to organize to understand the voice of their membership and bring that voice to
the meetings, without having a formal vote.