Letter to Gazette: “Northampton zoning change deserves closer look”

Today’s Gazette contains a letter to the editor from Barbara and Mark Dubeck of Northampton:

Today and Wednesday, the city’s Zoning Revisions Committee will hold two public forums on “Rezoning Northampton for a Sustainable Future.” While the Planning Office has encouraged feedback on the proposed changes, we’ve been told the revisions won’t be ready for review until, or immediately prior to, the meeting dates themselves.

Meantime, this much we do know: the new zoning calls for reduced footage between property lines, so that in-town structures can grow bigger while the space between them shrinks.

While this is being done for the sake of “sustainability,” we believe there’s more to the picture that deserves a closer look. So we ask: “Sustainable for whom?”

We’ve considered this question a lot lately as we watch our neighbors undergo an extensive home addition. The construction meets all the green building standards, but in a heartbreaking twist, has eliminated our “green,” blocking our sunlight, sky and views.

We fear that the proposed zoning revision will create more such crowded in-town living and compromise the very things that drew many of us to this community in the first place, particularly the lovely small town environment that combines natural beauty with accessibility…

Click to read the full letter (access may be restricted to paid Gazette subscribers)

See also:

February 15 and 16 Forums: Rezoning Northampton for a Sustainable Future

Video: Zoning Revisions Committee, January 19, 2011; Examples of Design Guidelines
The committee discussed how to encourage home-based businesses and how aggressively to push for zoning changes in light of potential political resistance.

Video: Zoning Revisions Committee Discusses Densifying Infill Areas (12/15/10)
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).

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.

Our Column in Today’s Gazette: The Hidden Risks of ‘Smart Growth’

Steven Greenhut, a columnist for the Orange County Register, is critical of [Bozeman’s] Portland-style growth controls:

Creating unattractive and high-density projects in a place awash in open space only pushes people farther out into the countryside. In Belgrade, eight miles away, one finds market-driven suburban-style subdivisions. That city does not have many restrictions, and those who cannot afford Bozeman or who want a bigger place simply move away, thus promoting the sprawl that Smart Growthers are trying to stop…