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Warrant Article #40 Disinformation

Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Beware of what you hear on social media!

There is disinformation being spread via social media regarding the detriments of removing IIHO (Warrant Article #40). Below are some of the false claims, followed by my rebuttal. Please think logically when you hear arguments against this warrant article.

False claim #1: If IIHO is deleted, there will be MORE neighbors in any given development because of a new State law allowing accessory dwelling units (ADU), and that the IIHO prevents this.

Absolutely false!

This claims insinuates that every house to be built in Amherst will now have a one- or two-bedroom structure plus the main house, something like an attached or unattached two-car garage with a one- or two-bedroom apartment above.

Why is this not true? The state law allowing ADUs is not tied to the IIHO. Removing the IIHO does nothing to change the state law regarding ADUs.

Points to consider:

  1. There is no mention of controlling ADUs in 4.16 IIHO, so if there is a State statute allowing ADUs, ADUs would be allowed with or without the IIHO.

  2. Any ADU must conform to current requirements established by the current zoning requirements. That means they must meet setbacks from property lines (front, side and back), wetlands, scenic roads, etc. Without the IIHO, any non-conformance would require Zoning Board approval/variance (this is a good thing). The IIHO does nothing to control ADUs on a given property.

  3. Each property must support a septic system for the total number of bedrooms. If there is a 4-bedroom house and there is a proposed 2-bedroom accessory unit, the septic must be able to handle 6 total bedrooms. Some properties would be disqualified right out of the gate. This is independent of the IIHO, and will not change with the removal of the IIHO.

  4. Logically, not everyone wants to own a property with an ADU. Not everyone wants to be a landlord and be responsible for someone else living on their property. Builders realize this and will not build a 20-house subdivision with 20 separate ADUs, they won't sell. They will however offer an option, and some people may pay the extra money for that unit, but not everyone!

Summary: Removing the IIHO will actually decrease the overall number of houses, as the IIHO increases density and overrides existing zoning (which previously regulated over development of a property). Even with an ADU for each new house, the density without IIHO would still be less than currently approved IIHO developments, which are in excess of 200% density.

False claim #2: If IIHO is deleted, there will be no incentives for developers to create open space for the residents or the public.

Points to consider:

  1. Currently the IIHO grants a 10% - 20% density bonus for open space. This isn't a bonus to town citizens, it's a bonus to developers that allows them to squeeze more buildings on a lot of land. Can someone explain what the "bonus" of that is for the Town of Amherst? Most of the open space being proposed under current IIHO developments is unbuildable land anyway, so it's irrelevant to suggest that removing the IIHO would decrease open space. There naturally would be open space due to land being un-developable.

  2. Under existing zoning without IIHO, a standard residential lot is 1 house per 2 acres. That is 87,120 square feet of property. Build a 3,000 square foot home, plus a 1,000 square foot ADU totaling 4,000 square feet, that leaves roughly 83,000 square feet of open space on that property.

  3. What is the definition of open space? Is it the same for citizens vs developers? Is it to have a parking lot at the foot of hiking or bike trails, or is to protect the environment, the trees, wetlands, wildlife corridors and the overall rural nature of Amherst? Do we want massive clear cutting of trees like over at the 122 developments, that is truly "open space"? Again, who is better to maintain open space on property, the owner of the property or some property management company or some homeowner's association? Under the IIHO, the developer has all the power to determine open space use. Under development without IIHO, your property is your open space; no one can tell you what to build.

  4. Update - Section 4.17 Planned Residential Development (PRD) ordinance part F actually requires any PRD to have a minimum of 40% open space. Prior to IIHO, several developments in Amherst followed the PRD. Atherton Commons, Souhegan Woods, Bartlett Common and The Fells are all PRDs. If IIHO is removed, Section F of the PRD ordinance will still be enforceable.

  5. The Planning Board does have the power to grant incentives to developers to keep open space. They can easily require or negotiate with any developer to include open space. Years ago, as Bedford was growing, they were running out of sports and recreational fields. They mandated that the builders include a sports field or two as part of their open space. Look at Greenfield Farms off of Wallace Rd, or the nice baseball field off Jenkins Rd. They just need to be creative (why we need an elected Planning Board - Article #37). Important to note, Bedford did not have IIHO stipulations when these developments were created.

Summary: The IIHO actually limits citizen control over properties, because the definition of "open space" can be what the developer wants. Removing the IIHO allows the control of what constitutes open space to be put back into the property owners hands. To repeat, most of the open space being proposed under current IIHO developments is unbuildable land anyway, so it's irrelevant to suggest that removing the IIHO would decrease open space.

False claim #3: If IIHO is deleted, there is no incentive to maintain or preserve existing buildings.

The only incentive given under IIHO for "redevelopment of existing structures" is to allow 4 units per redeveloped building. Is this an incentive to the town or the developer? Yes it would be nice to preserve existing structures, but the IIHO does not mandate preservation either. Without the IIHO, a creative Planning Board could negotiate with a developer to preserve or rebuild an existing structure for use within the development, such as a club house or community center.

False claim #4: If IIHO is deleted, affordable and senior housing will not be included. The full statement has to be included here: "The remaining rules for Planned Residential Development, Elderly Housing and Workforce Housing include no way to restrict allowable densities. Open Space Development was not a viable alternative - few ever got built.

Points to consider:

  1. Under pre-IIHO regulations, there are ordinances for Workforce Housing, Elderly Housing and Planned Residential Developments. Workforce Housing will not be impacted by IIHO removal (Based on NRPC assessment - see previous post Furthermore, the Planning Board has the ability to replace the deleted sections of the other ordinance (those that now refer to the IIHO), and the majority of the sections referring to IIHO deal specifically with density. Developers can still come before the Zoning Board to request variances to zoning for these types of developments.

  2. The current crop of developments presented under IIHO still do not include Workforce Housing mainly because doing so limits the cost per unit and rent is controlled, so it is not profitable to developers. In other words, Workforce Housing continues to not be built even with IIHO.

  3. Even with the IIHO, the only restrictions to density by the current Planning Board deal with un-developable space, every square foot of developable space is jam packed with densities granted greater than 150%, even up to 285%. Removing the IIHO will return the density to reasonable levels under the previous zoning ordinances.

In Summary: The IIHO is not needed to allow for Planned Residential Development, Elderly Housing and Workforce Housing. Ordinances addressing these are already in existence. Removal of the IIHO does nothing to affect these ordinances.

The IIHO is being sold as vital to meet state housing requirements. This is not true. The IIHO increased density to upwards of +200%, is not providing any additional Workforce Housing, is not following setbacks and other dimensional requirements, and the open space so greatly coveted is not buildable anyway, and is yet to be determined whether there is public benefit. Deleting the IIHO will provide more benefit to Amherst while meeting state requirements for Workforce Housing, and still provide sensible density covered by current zoning laws.

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