On September 27, 2023, City Council approved Ordinance 2023-005 to amend the Amesbury Zoning Ordinance and the Amesbury Overlay Zoning Map in order to establish a new Smart Growth Overlay District pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 40R and 760 CMR 59.00 that shall be known as the East End Smart Growth Overlay District (aka 40R).
The overarching goal of the East End Smart Growth Overlay District is to encourage a concentrated, mixed-use development along the existing commercial areas at the intersection of Route 110 and Clarks Road and Elm Street and to improve the transition between the commercial and residential neighborhoods. The adoption of a Smart Growth Overlay District gives the City more control over the process for creating well-designed, mixed-use development.
Designating a Smart Growth Overlay District was a lengthy process. The City first submitted a preliminary application to determine eligibility to the MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The application required background reports on the status of the existing zoning, the potential build-out, and the capacity of the existing infrastructure (roadway, utilities and municipal services) to support new development. The City was also required to hold a public hearing to solicit comments on the proposed Smart Growth Overlay District as part of the designation process. As of July 2022, all of these requirements had been met and the City received a letter from DHCD stating that the amendment to create a general 40R Smart Growth Overlay District satisfied applicable statutory and regulatory requirements for preliminary eligibility. All of the documents can be found below.
Pursuant to Ordinance 2023-005, the Amesbury Zoning Ordinance is amended to add the East End Smart Growth Overlay District to the Zoning Overlay Map and make certain revisions to the current zoning ordinance. The Planning Board recommendations and revised documents can be viewed below.
The final zoning amendment as voted for adoption will be sent to Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), formerly known as DHCD, for final review and approval.
East End Smart Growth Overlay District Planning Board Recommendations
The City held a series of neighborhood meetings to discuss the proposed zoning overlay district and get feedback from residents and other stakeholders. Meeting presentations and notes from each meeting are posted below.
East End Neighborhood District Presentation to Planning Board
What we're hearing: Traffic is already bad on Main Street and Clarks Road, and gets much worse in the summer. There is concern that traffic calming measures won't help. With the developments in progress (Maples Crossing, Bailey's Pond) and other potential developments being discussed (Marina at Amesbury Point) it seems like more traffic will be coming through our neighborhood.
Response: We agree that traffic is an issue on Main Street and Clarks Road, however, traffic calming measures have been proven to work. By lowering the speed limit, adding speed humps / tables, adding painted bicycle lanes, landscaped islands, narrowing the driving lane to the minimum allowed, and increasing enforcement, drivers will opt for other routes to decrease their travel time. The U.S. DOT has many examples of communities that traffic calming measures have worked to decrease speeding and accidents. We take the issue of traffic very seriously. We want our residents to feel safe on our streets, and be able to enjoy living where they do. Traffic is an issue across the City, this isn't unique to this neighborhood. Mayor Gove is working to address traffic concerns here as well as in other locations across the entire City of Amesbury.
What we're hearing: As an abutter of the proposed East End Smart Growth District, I want to express my enthusiastic support for the project, mainly due to its inclusion of affordable units which are so desperately needed, but also preservation of open space, walking trails and improved overall presentation of this area of Amesbury.
Response: We appreciate that abutters and residents of Amesbury see the benefits of this proposed district. The City's goal is to make this a win-win for all involved, including addressing the primary concerns we have heard so far: traffic, density and design.
What we're hearing: This is a historic neighborhood, and high-density housing doesn't fit here. It makes more sense to put this somewhere else in Amesbury, closer to downtown.
Response: We value the unique attributes of the Main Street neighborhood, however, this area isn't new to development. Birchwood Condominiums are high-density (126 units) and we don't feel that they detract from the area. They offer another option for housing in a desirable location close to the beautiful Merrimack River. Adopting a Smart Growth Overlay District, as an alternative to the existing 40B plan, will give us the option to choose between single family, two-family or multi-family housing, so we have choices to make sure it fits well with the surrounding areas. Additionally, an emphasis can be made on accessibility in these new homes to allow for residents to age in place and enjoy this historic neighborhood longer than they can right now.
Our thinking thus far has been to create a project which will increase the State's incentive payments, which will allow us to make more infrastructure improvements. The 40R process not only gives us greater flexibility and options for the overall design, but also, with the right number of units, provides us with funding to make necessary improvements for the entire neighborhood.
What we're hearing: Where else have you looked to do a 40R? Why not build on Elm Street, where infrastructure was just updated?
Response: Studies have been done to create a Smart Growth Overlay District in the Lower Millyard and on School Street. Those are certainly still possibilities. As this area is one of the gateways to Amesbury, we want to create a welcoming and vibrant entrance to Amesbury. The boundaries of this 40R do include some Elm Street parcels. Again, we began this process as a potential alternative to the existing approved 40B.
Comprehensive Traffic Planning
What we're hearing: There seem to be a lot of developments happening on this side of town which will impact Main Street and this neighborhood. Is there comprehensive planning being done to ensure that this side of town can handle the additional traffic?
Response: Many of the developments taking place in this side of Town have been in the making for several decades and only coming to fruition now. Hatters Point and Marina (1996), Baileys Pond (2004), Point Shore (2014). We have done preliminary studies and early plans are underway to make changes to traffic patterns and mitigation. We will continue this work, and as part of the Amesbury 2030 program, there will be ongoing dialogue on comprehensive land use planning.
What we're hearing: We're worried that the incentive payments won't actually be used in this neighborhood.
Response: Like we used the incentive payments ($1.2M) from The Heights to improve the area at the intersection of Route 110 and 150, we would use incentive payments from this 40R to improve the infrastructure in and around the proposed East End Smart Growth Overlay District. We can also create a separate account specifically for incentive payments from the Smart Growth program and require those funds be used for specific improvements / purposes.
Not Being Listened to
What we're hearing: We don't feel like we're being listened to. It seems like you're just moving forward without taking concerns into consideration and with so many unanswered questions. We feel like we're being threatened with the 40B.
Response: We've received feedback from across the board: some people are completely opposed, some are ok with this if done right, and some are fully in favor. Everything we've done so far is us doing our due diligence. We are listening to the concerns and thinking about how best to address them. Your opinions mean so much, which is why we continue to hold neighborhood meetings (not required by the State for this process), but we also have to take the entire City into consideration and the possible benefits for all of our residents. We apologize if anyone felt "threatened" by the 40B discussion; our intent is to present all of the options facing the neighborhood. Something will be developed in that location, and our neighborhood meetings are helping to determine the best way to move forward.
We're working to create an open and collaborative process that results in thoughtfully planned and implemented development that positively impacts our community. Throughout the history of Amesbury development has happened and to us today, it's just a part of the fabric of our community. We want Amesbury to be welcoming and accessible for all to live here, which means creating more affordable housing, keeping our taxes as low as we can while still creating and maintaining the kind of community we want to live in, and working to attract diverse populations.