I am quoting below a writer who lives on Phillips Place who missed the planning board meeting last week. She wished her letter to Carolyn Misch, one of the city planners, to be her public comment. I am printing this excerpt. Last week Amherst residents Linda Muerle and her husband Burt Ewart received final approval for the second house they had constructed in the old Turcotte back yard on Phillips Place, taking advantage of the new-so-called in-fill zoning.
Hello Ms. Misch:
I am following up our conversation earlier this week with comments regarding this hearing, as I will be out of town next week and unable to attend. I hope this message will be regarded as my public comment. When I attended the earlier hearing, I was disturbed by the tenor of the meeting, during which the developer appearing before the board was addressed by everyone on the board by her first name and was told at one point that she needn’t present her plans via projector because the board had already seen them. The latter reassurance to her seemed to disregard the face that it was a public hearing and the rights of the members of the public in attendance, namely people living on the street that would be affected who had never seen these plans…Given that more than half a year has elapsed since the developer was granted the go-ahead to build without first resolving the matter of the ownership of the space on the west side of the property, I;m wondering why she has not resolved this matter yet.
Has she operated in good faith in that time? I don’t know. I do know that she has built a mammoth structure that fills most of the previous open space, at least where it matters- that is to say there is virtually no space between the front of the house and the street, between the two houses on that property and of course, on the side of the property and of course, on the side of the property which the waiver addressed. …But what I believe is that this is not how city covernment should operate: that someone is given permission to build without meeting certain legal requirements, then is off the book forever regarding those same requirements because, as I gathered from my conversation with Ms. Misch, she might have to go to court to resolve this issue otherwise? I’m not sure why this should be the citizenry’s problem? If this waiver is granted, it would seem to be preferential treatment, even cronyism, the latter being something I have never wanted to think was the operating principle in Northampton’s governance.
The wheels began to come off the wagon at the first hearing , when the developer showed this photo as part of her presentation to the board. It is clear that the property line runs down the neighbor’s driveway. Normally you have to have a clear title to your property to be able to build. The people who owned the adjoining property said it was theirs because it had always been used by their tenants under the rights of adverse possession. The owners, to my knowledge, never talked to the owners Nicholas or Betty Dufrey of Easthampton. At their last meeting the board decided, against all precedence, that the dispute over the property was “not material.” Nick and Betty Defrey are not just anybody, they own a lot of property and are the powers behind Nicky D’s in Easthampton (full disclosure, I bought our car from them). So various things were done wrong ( telling their tenants they couldn’t park on the east side of the driveway, the letter from the lawyer, etc. Bad start for a friendly give and take. The letter from the developers was not friendly.
We’re reasonable people and are interested in find a good solution. We’ve had trouble getting our attorney to approach this problem without pushing for litigation and the response letter we received from your attorney most definitely threatened litigation.”
“I had him by the collar, your honor, and I was holding him back.”
So I heard Attorney Tom Lesser stood up at the hearing and said we’re going to court, and he filed a suit in Hampshire Superior Court the next morning.
Where does the cronyism come in? It’s embedded in the legal privileges given these developers and the design they okayed. This is the new house
So now it is complete there is only about six feet between the new house and the driveway. Inches count in the new in-fill legislation, which developers can use to shoe-horn what very large houses into very small lots. This new house is around 4,000 square feet; a front and back duplex with four bedrooms in each unit.
The building only leaves a narrow alley for parking with three places in back of the building, and four in-house spaces that people are probably not going to use very often. God knows that kind of magician they are going to hire to do their plowing if this winter is like last winter. And this is what Phillips Place looked like last winter.
Who cares if there are more people parking on the street already than there are room for them? Not the planning board. Here’s the design of the house.
God help us if they have a fire-drill and the condo owners try to get all their cars out at the same time. The developers need a certificate of occupancy for the house. You need a ten foot set-back to be legal. So what happens if the abuttor wins? Do they tear down the house? Probably not.
But this is the way Linda and her husband do things. They charm city staff and the planning board, and the planning board ignores the neighbors and their petty concerns. And then the developers conduct legal bombardment if someone annoys them. They got into a suit with the builder who built their house on Shays Road in Amherst; they got into conflict with their next door neighbor there and filed for a special permit because of Linda’s desire to keep three horses on their property. The people who have paid big bucks for units in their condominium complex at 90 Pomeroy Place have sued them. See this unsigned summary entered into the record of the meeting. After four condo owners moved into the building, they amended the master deed and restructured two of the condominium units. What was going to be another house some distance from the main house turned out to be uncomfortably close. There was a lot of banging from construction inside the main building, and new construction blocked some views of the meadows. Originally when the master deed was drafted, it was said a free-standing house was going to be built in their back yard (marked as area of future development)
But then the building inspector said no, no free-standing houses in this lot, the people viewing the application said (I think) said okay Linda and Burt, here is how you do it. Restructure two of the empty condos inside the house, give a new two-story condo an outer deck that butts onto the new building, and move this structure closer to it, and your new building has now has become a condo unit and not a free-standing house, even though it is standing without any external support. Lord help me. Here it is, in three shots.
A blank face of a wall facing your condo-owners. This is the face of cronyism. It’s been going on a long time. For friends of the planning department, you get the easy way. The red carpet will be out at the planning board. For the rest of us? Oh, things will be difficult.