The City of Amesbury is investigating the possibility of creating a Smart Growth Overlay District (aka 40R) in the area of Route 110, Clarks Road and Elm Street. The overarching goal of what we are calling the proposed 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. Adoption of a Smart Growth Overlay District will give the City more control over the process for creating well-designed, mixed-use development.
Designating a Smart Growth Overlay District is a lengthy process. The City must first submit a preliminary application to determine eligibility to the MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). The application requires 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 is also required to hold a public hearing to elicit comments on the proposed Smart Growth Overlay District as part of the designation process. If DHCD approves the preliminary application the City can proceed with drafting and adopting a zoning amendment. In order for it to be adopted, it must go before the Planning Board and City Council. Once adopted by both of these boards, the City must submit the zoning amendment to DHCD for final review and approval. Although the City is only required to hold one hearing to get public comment, the City is continually engaging residents of the abutting neighborhood and other stakeholders to gather feedback and concerns about the proposed Smart Growth Overlay District. Please continue to check back often or attend a neighborhood meeting!
The City is holding 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
Thursday, June 17th | 6:00 - 7:30PM
East End Neighborhood Planning Workshop
Tuesday, March 30 | 6:00 - 8:00PM
There was no presentation at this meeting. Photos can be viewed here!
East End Neighborhood Meeting #3
Tuesday, February 23 | 6:00PM
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 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.
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.
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.
Where is the proposed Smart Growth Overlay District located?
- The proposed district contains 14 properties within a 16-acre area along the Elm Street and Route 110 intersection and it also includes several residential properties along upper Clarks Road including the approved 40B project. About 80% of the proposed district is considered developable land when deducting for wetlands, floodplains and steep slopes. See location map above.
Why is a Smart Growth Overlay District being considered for the Elm Street and Upper Clarks Road Area?
- The current conditions for several properties located along Clarks Road and the Route 110 / Elm Street Intersection provide the City with a unique opportunity to support innovative redevelopment and new housing development. Additionally, in 2006, a 54-unit 40B project was approved for Clarks Road. As approved, the 40B project has the potential to impact the quality and character of the Clarks Road neighborhood. Thus, adopting a 40R would offer the property owners with another option that minimizes the environmental impacts, provides additional affordable and market rate housing, and unlocks state funding to make infrastructure improvements that are already needed in that neighborhood.
What are the future development possibilites if the Smart Growth Overlay District is adopted?
- The below image shows a conceptual buildout of the three sub-districts using the minimum densities required under the Smart Growth Overlay Zoning District. The plan shows the potential redevelopment of the Burger King and Friendly’s sites with two new 2½ story, mixed-use buildings. Commercial uses would be required on the ground-floor and residential above. Parking would be located behind or below the buildings. The site of the unbuilt 56-unit 40B project on 29 Clarks Road and adjoining residential properties could be redeveloped with three (3), 4-story, 70-unit multi-family buildings with underground and surface parking. Almost 70% of the undeveloped land between Point Shore Meadows Subdivision and this multi-family would be left as permanent protected open space. In addition, vegetative buffer areas would be created along the abutting residential properties and a multi-use public trail through the conservation area would provide a connection to Point Shore, the Whittier Bridge Trail, and the bike path. With improved pedestrian connections, the neighborhood would be able to access the commercial areas along Route 110 corridor including the Carriagetown Marketplace.
What is the difference between a 40R and 40B?
- A Comprehensive Permit (or 40B) Project is usually a developer-driven project that is NOT permitted under local zoning for both the proposed use and density. It is required to have 25% of the proposed units designated as “affordable housing units” as defined under MGL. A 40B. 40B projects are reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals and are exempt from all local zoning regulations. A 40R Smart Growth Overlay District is a locally-adopted zoning district that encourages higher density housing developments. It requires 20% of the housing units to be designated as affordable. A 40R Smart Growth Overlay District provides communities more control over the location, density and design of these projects. The Planning Board is the permit granting authority and all local zoning regulations apply. The image below includes Chapter 40A (Zoning statute) in comparison to 40B and 40R, outlining the differences in the control a community has over location, density and design of development.
What makes this location suitable for a 40R designation?
- The proposed Smart Growth Overlay District is located in an area that is a gateway to the City of Amesbury from the adjoining communities of Newburyport and Salisbury and also from I-95. Most of the east bound traffic to the beaches in Salisbury from I-495 and from Amesbury travels along this commercial corridor. Further, it is connected to Downtown Amesbury, the Deer Island, the Main Street neighborhood with existing bike-paths and sidewalks in this neighborhood. Notably, the regional transit stations and proximity to urbanized areas is important for State designation of a 40R District.
Does Amesbury already have a 40R, and if so, what are the benefits to Amesbury?
- Yes. In 2007, Amesbury adopted a zoning amendment for the Amesbury Gateway Smart Growth Overlay District for a group of properties in a 52-acre area located along I-495 and Route 110/150. At the time, a 268-unit multi-family development was proposed under MGL 40B (a Comprehensive Permit). That proposal did not seek to address concerns regarding traffic and drainage impacts on the neighborhood. The City proposed and adopted a 40R District in order to secure state incentive payments and support state funding for infrastructure improvements along Route 110. As a result of the project being approved under a 40R District, the City received nearly $1.2M in incentive payments from the State. Additionally, state funding is also provided for the local share of any school-costs associated with any school-aged children residing within an 40R project.
What are the proposed sub-districts and how many housing units are allowed within each sub-district?
- There are three sub-districts proposed: a multi-family, substantially developed area, and a future open space sub-district. Within the multi-family district, the City would allow 20 units per developable area. Within the substantially developed areas the City may allow densities up to 20 units per acre. No housing units are permitted in the future open space. At least 20% of the housing units are required to designated as affordable housing under state law.
How much density is required under a 40R District?
- There are several sub-districts allowed with varying degrees of density:
- Single-family sub-districts = 8 units per acre
- Two-family sub-districts = 12 units per acre
- Multi-family sub-districts = 20 units per acre
What is affordable housing and what are the likely rental rates?
- A housing unit is designated as “affordable” if it's limited to residents earning less than 80% of the median income of the region. For the Boston metropolitan area (which applies for Amesbury) rental rates for a three-bedroom unit are limited to no more than $1,650 per month. Note that a one- or two-bedroom unit would be several hundred dollars less per month.
How many units are in the approved 40B development?
- There are 56 units, including the manager's unit, in the approved 40B development. At the March 30th Neighborhood Workshop, we mistakenly indicated there were 57. We apologize for the miscommunication.
Does the approved 40B require adding a separate emergency access?
- The developer/owner of the comprehensive permit has indicated that the permit does not require a separate emergency access. In this regard, they have pointed to the following: “In 2017 the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC) ruled that their Ruling and Order, and its Appendix, constitute the Comprehensive Permit for the Project. In that document, they made no mention of a 2nd access or egress for the property. Further, HAC wrote, in the revised Conditions in the Appendix, that “any and all dead-end drives and parking areas have been reviewed by the Fire Chief for consistency with this Comprehensive Permit. The final Memorandum of Decision and Order from the Superior Court in 2019 affirmed the 2017 HAC decision, making no changes to it.”
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