Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Board Calls for Notification of Property Owners When Zoning Changes Are Proposed

The Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Board of Directors are circulating the following announcement today:

Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Board Calls for Notification of Property Owners When Zoning Changes Are Proposed

The Board of Directors of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association will be asking city government to develop a policy of notification for property owners whose parcels are being considered for rezoning. This will be particularly important since the newly-adopted Sustainability Plan calls for large-scale rezonings of properties in much of the city.

The Ward 3 Association board is concerned that property owners be given proper notification that a zone change is being proposed for their property. This will allow property owners the right to speak about the proposal at public meetings and express support or opposition for changes to the zoning on their parcel.

The proposal is being sent to members of the Northampton City Council, Planning Board, and Zoning Revisions Committee, as well as other city officials who will be involved in developing zoning proposals.

A copy of the memo and proposal being sent to these officials follows:

September 10, 2009

To: Members of the Northampton City Council, Northampton Planning Board, and Zoning Revision Committee
Re: Notice to property owners about proposed zoning changes
From: Board of Directors of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association
Gerald S. Budgar, President 584-2964 or gbudgar@rcn.com

As the city embarks on the process of rezoning to comply with the Sustainability Plan, there are a number of issues and concerns that we believe need to be addressed so the process is open, fair, and understandable to all residents of Northampton.

The city has a lengthy procedural process for discussing potential zoning changes. A lengthy and public process does not guarantee an informed and open one, which we believe should be the goal. We would like to suggest some meaningful steps city government should take to facilitate information flow to and participation by citizens.

Our first concern is a knowledge barrier resulting from the complexities in the zoning code itself. There doesn’t seem to be an easy, comprehensive way to describe the zoning districts or what it means to be in a particular district. We would ask that a simple, easy-to-understand guide to the zoning code be developed and distributed throughout the city.

Secondly, we hope that the City will commit to properly notify property owners when zoning changes are proposed. This notification should include a copy of the zone change legislation, reason for the change, a list of the sponsors, a description of the change with a diagram if necessary for clarity and the impact it will have on the property, and the time and location of meetings where property owners can learn about and comment on the proposals.

For most families in Northampton, their home is their most valuable and important asset. The city should have a clear policy that it will notify property owners when there’s a proposal to make any change to the zoning on that parcel. This is critical since the Sustainability Plan will likely generate many rezoning proposals. City residents should be confident they will be notified of any changes proposed for their properties and not find out one day the zoning was changed on their property without their knowledge.

We present a checklist of items we believe the city might use to accomplish these objectives:

Suggestions For Improving Information Flow To City Residents

Prepare An Easy To Understand Guide To The Zoning Code

  • Provide materials that accompany the city’s zoning regulations that explain them in clear and simple language to minimize the citizen’s need for professional assistance
  • We urge the Office of Planning and Development to use such resources at its disposal to meet this goal as the Zoning Revisions Committee, the Northampton Design Forum, and the Planning Board
  • If necessary, seek outside assistance to meet this goal.
Prepare Notification Packet Surrounding Changes In Zoning Regulations (sent to each property owner when a zone change is proposed for his/her property):

  • A copy of the proposed regulation with a layperson description of the general impact
  • A description of possible impacts
  • A list of sponsors of the legislation
  • A list of public venues (time and place) where information will be provided surrounding the new regulation
  • A list of public venues (time and place) where public input will be sought concerning the new regulation
  • A brief review of the ordinance process and how a citizen can make his or her voice heard
  • We encourage the city to look for effective alternatives to direct mail notification to avoid the expense of this approach with the goal of notifying every citizen affected by the change
  • Establish a year-long process for any proposed zoning changes to provide a thorough public vetting.