Video: Zoning Revisions Committee Discusses Densifying Infill Areas

Here is a complete video of the 12/15/10 meeting of Northampton’s Zoning Revisions Committee. This recording is 1 hour 56 minutes long and was made by Adam Cohen.

Here are documents that the committee discussed:

The committee discussed several ideas that appealed to NSNA, such as liberalizing the regulations on home occupations. However, other ideas gave us concern:

  • Not all mixed-uses may be benign for residential neighborhoods. For example, a noisy bar.

  • Some members of the ZRC may not appreciate how much people value their cars, especially in our cold climate. Having no car isolates you from friends, jobs, activities, civic participation, and (reasonably-priced) shopping. Transporting small children without a car is particularly difficult.

  • Most of the dense neighborhoods in the Urban Residential C districts were built before cars became popular. Today’s zoning that restricts development there may be the main thing preventing serious parking and traffic problems.

  • The solution to many of the problems created by gas-powered cars may come in the form of smaller cars, electric cars, etc., rather than the elimination of cars.

  • Improving mass transit utilization might be better done by deemphasizing large, often near-empty buses and encouraging more flexible service with small vans and private jitneys. Jacking up density to the degree needed to support traditional bus transit (7-12 units per acre, see PDF) may well cause more problems than it’s worth.

  • Unlike the situation on King Street, we believe that most residents of Northampton’s historic neighborhoods are basically satisfied with them as they are. As Jane Jacobs would say, we should cherish the communities we have. Tinkering should be done only slowly and with great caution. Over the past century, many visionary planning schemes have damaged or destroyed quality neighborhoods around the world. See, for example, “The Tragedy of the West End Urban Renewal in Boston” (PDF).

  • We would like to see many more examples of communities like Northampton (our size, our climate, our distance from major urban centers) that have successfully implemented the changes being considered by the ZRC. NSNA has been diligent in providing examples to substantiate our concerns. The ZRC needs to be able to explain, with real-world case studies, how their proposals will preserve our quality of life while avoiding the problems seen elsewhere.
If zoning revisions winds up making Northampton’s receiving areas less pleasant to live in, the ironic result may well be increased sprawl as home buyers seek greenspace, quiet and parking elsewhere.

See also:

Pictures of Northampton Streets at Various Densities  

Living Urbanism: “Density and Urbanity” (12/10/10)
Not every planner is proportion-blind, as Kohr and Illich might put it, but the justification for density in urban settings often takes leave of nuance, cutting itself off from the qualities of place that are reflected in the existing urban fabric. The question to ask of density is, “What will it actually contribute to this place–this site, block, neighborhood, or district–in terms of livability, urbanity, and sustainability?” To answer it, we need to restore a “common sense” about proportionality and appropriateness, so that the subject of density regains moorings to actual settings and to those who live and work in them.

Video: Zoning Revisions Committee Meeting of 10/6/10; King Street Forum Comments; Planning Staff Offer Suggestions
As a heads up to residents of North Street and other streets that lie near the boundary between zones URB (medium urban residential density) and URC (highest urban residential density), page 4 of the Feiden/Misch memo suggests that during January-April 2011, the ZRC should “determine areas within walking distance to commercial centers whose zoning designation should be amended (e.g. properties zoned URB that should be zoned URC).” (Download PDF of Northampton zoning map) 

This has the potential to bring substantial change to the rezoned areas, such as higher densities, smaller lots, reduced setbacks between structures, reduced open space, and a change in permissable uses. The changes could be compounded if the rules for URC itself are loosened to allow a greater intensity of land use.

Condo Monotony: The Future of Ward 3?

Gazette: “On what gives a city its appeal” (11/29/10)
…surveys indicated that loyalty and passion for cities are most powerfully formed by “soft” factors [including]… 

…openness – a substantial share of residents feeling their communities are good places for older people, young singles, families with young children, or racial and ethnic minorities…

…aesthetics – parks and attractive watersides, tree-lined streets, playgrounds and trails…

The significant point is that communities scoring well on these soft factors also have higher economic rates of growth than jurisdictions that offer less “quality of life” assets and presumably stick with “hard” growth strategies like direct subsidies to business.

Video Highlights from the 10/19/09 Mayoral Debate: Wetlands, King Street, Infill and the BID
Bardsley: “I think we need design standards… Infill isn’t simply cramming in buildings.”

Ward 3 Open Space Survey Results  

Bay State Village Visioning Project: Survey Results  

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space”
Protecting open space is often about protecting what makes a community special and unique… At the small-town or village scale, a forested hillside or surrounding farmland helps create a unique sense of place. Furthermore, preserving open space helps to create distinct edges that stop the blurring of community boundaries that is characteristic of urban sprawl. Defining what is unique about one’s community and identifying places that are special to local residents is an important part of the overall planning process (Hester 1990)…

Photo Essay: 10 Reasons People Like Trees Around Them; Will the Sustainable Northampton Plan Put Urban Trees at Risk?

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”
A metropolis (i.e., metro region or citistate) is considered green if it fosters humans’ connections to the natural world — an idea Anne Whiston Spirn promoted in her seminal 1984 book The Granite Garden. Spirn rejected the idea — easily absorbed if one watches too many “concrete jungle” films, or even televised nature documentaries — that the natural world begins beyond the urban fringe. “Nature in the city,” she wrote, “must be cultivated, like a garden, rather than ignored or subdued.”