Amherst Indy asks about my Vision for Downtown

The Amherst Indy is publishing a three part series where candidates can respond to issues in Town. Below is my response to the first question:

Downtown Development.  Much has been said about the flagging downtown economy. What is your vision for a revitalized and prospering downtown and what specifically would you like to see the Town Council do to move us in that direction?

My vision for Amherst’s downtown and village centers are places that are walkable and vibrant where people want to live and visit. Much of what creates a vibrant area that attracts residents and visitors is not directly within the purview of the Town Council – for example, scheduling live performances, both in businesses and outdoors or providing outdoor seating for dining.

However, there are some actions the Council can take to help foster an environment that promotes vibrancy and encourages residents and visitors to venture to the downtown and village centers to eat, play, socialize, and be entertained. The Council must ensure that public ways reservation requests for items such as festivals, concerts, and outdoor seating are granted. On a more permanent basis, the Council should be encouraging the creation of gathering and seating areas in parks and on the Common. A permanent structure on the Common for performances will permit many more organizations to hold gatherings and performances in a professional manner without much added cost (like the local dance studios holding recitals without needing to rent risers). The Council must work with the Manager to find ways to eliminate the perception that parking is scarce in our business districts and to ensure that people venturing into the business districts in cars can easily find parking. At the same time, the Council must work towards ensuring that the downtown and village centers are pedestrian friendly. This could include ensuring sidewalks are wide enough for pedestrian traffic, guaranteeing the sidewalk-facing portions of the ground levels of buildings are occupied by non-residential uses, and creating spaces in the public way for resting and chatting. In addition, these spaces should have trees and greenery that help make the area welcoming and also serve to limit rainwater run-off into our sewers.

I also believe that in order to be vibrant areas of Town, our downtown and village centers need residents living in them and living in the surrounding neighborhoods that are walkable to them. And that requires addressing our housing crisis and modifying zoning to more easily allow appropriate types of housing in these areas. Areas in the downtown and village centers should be our densest built up areas, and that density should decrease the further away from the centers a person goes. Our zoning should match this goal, and it doesn’t yet. For example, townhomes require special permits in the residential zoning districts that are intended to be the densest and closest to the village centers. We should ease that requirement, in order to make it easier to build more transitional types of housing in the transition zones (this is sometimes referred to “the missing middle” – housing between very dense apartment buildings and low-density single-family homes). Doing so will add needed housing in a variety of types, help our village centers and downtown become more vibrant, and provide a built-in customer base for small local businesses.