March 10: Zoning Revisions Committee to Meet; Our Suggestions

Northampton’s Office of Planning and Development is circulating this announcement:

The Zoning Revisions Committee (advisory to the Planning Board) will meet Tuesday March 10 at 7 PM in City Council Chambers.

Please Contact Carolyn Misch at for further information.

The Zoning Revisions Committee is charged with recommending zoning changes that implement the Sustainable Northampton Plan. We urge the committee to keep these considerations in mind:

  • Before trying to facilitate infill development, might it be best to first establish infill design standards? (see Springfield)
  • How can we encourage development within already paved-over spaces as opposed to eating into greenspace? Why are spaces in certain in-town areas like King Street languishing unused? Are there concerns about hazardous waste that need to be addressed?
  • How will proposed rule changes affect the quality of life within in-town districts? Changes that erode amenities (e.g. greenspace), raise safety issues (e.g. more flooding) or create hassles (e.g. more traffic jams) may defeat the purpose of the Sustainable Northampton Plan by motivating homebuyers to sprawl out elsewhere.
  • Will the proposed rule changes encourage development that is in harmony with the surrounding neighborhood?
  • How will proposed rule changes affect tree canopy ward by ward?
  • How will proposed rule changes affect the percentage of impervious surface ward by ward?
  • How will proposed rule changes affect the value of neighboring properties?
  • How will proposed rule changes affect property taxes? (if you can build more units on a parcel, its taxable value might increase)
  • Will the proposed rule changes alter the balance between single-family and multi-family housing units? (this could impact the municipal budget)
  • Will the proposed rule changes discourage the possibly desirable development of new neighborhood centers in outlying areas? (e.g. through requiring high traffic mitigation payments for certain businesses)
  • Will the proposed rule changes result in a ‘privatization’ of greenspace? This can happen, for example, with developments that sequester most of their greenspace behind buildings and away from the street.

So that non-professionals can understand what’s being debated, we urge the committee to circulate visual illustrations for all proposals whenever appropriate.

See also:

March 2: Zero Lot Line Workshop

Video: Planning Board and Ordinance Committee Discuss Zero Lot Line Changes, Traffic Mitigation Payments
Some issues that arose during and after the [1/8/09] discussion include:

  • 1:42:15-1:45:55…
    Gerald Budgar, President of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association: We
    need to find better ways to notify people who might be affected by
    ordinance changes. Few are probably aware of the proposed Zero Lot Line
    changes, even if they affects them or their neighbor. “…I think
    frankly it’s one of the weaknesses of city government in Northampton,
    that people don’t know what is being proposed either on their
    properties or near them. And it would seem to me that some effort
    should be made to notify the people who are either red or green here
    [see below], and the people who are around them, to let them know that
    this is being proposed. I think that’s only fair. I don’t think that
    people should some day just find something happening next to them that
    they know nothing about…

    “This has wide-ranging impact on a lot of people, and if we’re going to
    start getting into a lot of this rezoning for the city, I think we need
    a better process… You have to communicate with people, you have to
    educate them and inform them… I can tell you, I’m President of the
    Ward 3 Neighborhood Association–I’m speaking as an individual–we’ve
    had a lot of discussions about a lot of things on city government and
    the biggest complaint we hear is that ‘We didn’t know. We weren’t told.
    We weren’t informed.’ And something like this needs to be communicated
    to people. People need to be told what’s being proposed, and they need
    to be given an open opportunity to speak about something they know
    about. Am I angry? Yeah…that this might…have some impact on me.
    I didn’t know it until I saw the little red dot, and I really think
    that this is an opportunity to find a better way to do these things.
    Thank you.”

  • Land Use and Conservation Planner Bruce Young favors the adoption of “design standards in architectural ordinances
    Because if we’re saying we want a house between two houses, and we
    can’t get the neighborhood to buy onto houses that are just not helping
    the neighborhood…” The Planning Board should consider setting aside
    infill-related ordinance changes until design standards are in place. Springfield is working on its own infill housing design guidelines as we speak.

More Detail on the Zero Lot Line Proposed Changes; Evaluating Infill Impacts
The maximum possible consequences from the proposed changes need to be
spelled out, including the potential percentage increase in impervious
surface and potential loss of tree canopy, broken out by ward. As with
the new wetlands ordinance,
it’s not enough to evaluate the impacts of new rules project by
project. Long-term impacts at the ward and city level must also be

Video: August 11 Rezoning Subcommittee
While the Zoning Revisions Committee is intended to follow the
Sustainable Northampton Plan, reasonable people might disagree on what
is sustainable. For example, given a half-acre of open space within
walking distance of downtown, some people might say developers should
be encouraged to build housing units on it. Others might say the space
is better used as home gardens that will also absorb stormwater and help mitigate flooding.

Planning Board Adopts Sustainable Northampton Plan
language in Plan:] “Traditional Neighborhood and Receiving Zone — These
are currently the most developed areas with planned expansion of
developable area to accommodate expected demand for new growth. These
areas can accommodate the vast majority of new smart growth residential
development… More focus on design details, encouraging designs
compatible with historic neighborhoods, focus on pocket and linear
parks and on the quality of life generally are key elements for
encouraging a population density consistent with the highest quality
neighborhoods present 50 years ago.”

is] concerned…about the reference to densities of 50 years ago. Much
has changed since then. In particular, women have far more jobs outside
the home, meaning more cars are on the road. By the same token, more
families have become too busy to dedicate an adult to shopping in small
amounts on a daily basis. If you’re buying 50 pounds of groceries and
supplies at a time, you’re probably going to prefer to do that by car
rather than walk or use the bus. Factors like these mean that a
neighborhood that had comfortable density in 1957 might be perceived as
congested with cars today.

The New Draft Sustainable Northampton Plan: Balancing Compact Growth Against Taxes, Urban Greenspace, Homeowner Preferences
[J. Terrence Farris, Associate Professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at Clemson University:] …smart growth advocates should be realistic about the amount of
development that will occur in built-up areas versus outlying open land
as various stakeholders consider future policies. The U.S. population
is expected to double in this century. It is hard to imagine that a
large percentage of that growth will occur in existing built-up areas.

growth advocates should focus especially on encouraging higher-density
quality development on open peripheral land. The discussion in this
article suggests that this is where most development will occur.
Perhaps up to 20 percent can be infill in cities and the older suburbs
(this would be a big increase from present patterns). The density of
most cities is 5 to 10 times that of their suburbs (Downs 1994)…

Smart Growth vs. “Smart Growth”

Our Ad in Today’s Gazette: A Review of Our Objections to the Kohl Condo Proposal

Some claim that because Kohl’s proposed condos are within walking distance
of downtown and have a high density, they are a good example of Smart
Growth. However, there’s more to it than that, according to the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

True Smart Growth respects green infrastructure, such as trees and wetlands. These greenspaces filter the air, reduce the urban heat island effect, enhance property values and moderate stormwater flows, and they do it inexpensively. Urban greenspace is associated with improved physical and mental health and greater social cohesion in neighborhoods.

True Smart Growth preserves a community’s character, unlike development that
“bears little relationship to a community’s history, culture, or
geography.” ULI says homebuyers are increasingly attracted to
vernacular and historical house styles that characterize their
immediate area or region. Quoting Jim Constantine, a market specialist
who does “curb appeal” surveys for developers, “Consumers are turned
off by cookie-cutter subdivisions and the homogenous look of houses.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Kohl Construction is offering the

must not be allowed to cherry-pick aspects of Smart Growth that suit
their profit goals and ignore the rest. If Northampton wants to reduce
sprawl and attract residents to its already built-up areas, it must keep these areas safe and preserve the greenspace and visual appeal that grace its traditional neighborhoods.

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?
If a trend towards dense, monotonous developments gains momentum, we can expect to see larger effects on Ward 3, such as higher temperatures, more air pollution, more traffic congestion, a greater risk of flooding from the spread of impervious surface and encroachment on wetlands, and an overall reduction in charm and beauty. This is not inevitable, but it appears we need to adjust our zoning to preserve what’s good about where we live. Let your city councilors know how you feel.

Envisioning Sustainable Northampton: Notre Dame Urban Design Presentation – Video and Handout

Gazette: “‘Brownfields’ law altering landscape”

Syd Gernstein: “Brownfields Revitalization Cuts Urban Blight, Suburban Sprawl”
NSNA is enthusiastic about infill and urban development when
it involves brownfields revitalization. There is much that government
can to assist this process.

Grasping the Sustainable Northampton Vision: We Need Pictures
In all the 78 pages of the draft Sustainable Northampton Plan
(PDF), there is only a single graphic. It’s the Future Land Use Map, an
abstract, top-level view of the city. That’s unfortunate, because
without drawings, pictures and illustrations, it’s difficult to
envision how the Plan will change the look and feel of
Northampton. James Kunstler, an advocate of New Urbanism, discusses
this problem in “Home From Nowhere”, published in the September 1996 issue of The Atlantic Monthly…