Amherst zoning board reviews 3 petitions, endorses just 1

The Amherst Planning Board met on Jan. 7 to review three petitions for the March ballot that could affect the future creation of recreation fields on Stearns Road.

By the end of the hour-long meeting, only one petition was endorsed by the board: Petition A, which asked that the words “non-commercial” be deleted from restrictions on sports and recreation uses in residential/rural zones.

The public hearing was attended by about a dozen residents, including Brad Knight, who has unsuccessfully been trying to get approval for sports fields on his 57-acre property known as Acorn Fields, and several neighbors, who have vehemently opposed his efforts.

“I think it would change the whole nature of the town,” said Peter de Bruyn Kops, who spoke against the first petition. “Removing ‘non-commercial’ opens it up to any service business, whether people enjoy it or not.”

He cited a bowling alley, dance hall and outdoor amplified music as examples that could be permitted in a
residential/rural area if Knight’s proposed Petition A passes.

After discussion, the board voted 4-3 in favor of endorsing Petition A, with Sally Wilkins, Richard Hart, Allen Merriman and Cliff Harris voting in favor, and Gordon Leedy, Michael Dell Orfano and Arnold Rosenblatt opposed.

Petition B, also filed by Knight, would create a new zoning district for his property and the adjacent Amherst Country Club and Buckmeadow Golf Course. The other properties are already grandfathered for use for sports and recreation, but would have to be rezoned along with Knight’s to avoid “spot zoning.”

“This new zone is being proposed to resolve the ongoing playing field shortage in Amherst,” Knight said. “It severely limits the area where playing fields could be built to two existing golf courses and a parcel previously used for playing fields. The rest of the town’s zoning would not change.”

Knight said that the current zoning does not allow for fields to be built or used in any residential zone (about 98 percent of the town), and this new zone would provide a centralized area for sports, recreation and functions with no negative impact on property taxes.

“While technically not spot zoning, this only includes three properties in town and we should be broader than that,” Leedy said. “If the goal is for recreational facilities in town, then these are not the only three properties.”

Some questions were raised regarding how the owners of the Amherst Country Club and Buckmeadow Golf Course feel about their properties being rezoned.

Knight said he had spoken to the owner of Amherst Country Club and she was fine with the proposal. Resident Wendy Hunt disputed that claim, and Paul Martin said staff at the golf course was angry it had not been given notice of the proposal.

Sarah Marchant, Planning and Zoning director, explained that because the two properties are already zoned commercial, they don’t need the zoning change and are not party to this.

Neither of the owners signed the petition.

The board voted 6-0-1 against endorsing Petition B, with Merriman abstaining.

Counter-petition

The board reviewed Petition C, which would restrict sports and recreation in the residential/
rural zone to non-
commercial activities that are not the primary use of the property.

The petition was written and submitted by residents of Stearns Road who have opposed Knight’s efforts to create fields on his property because they fear it will ruin the character of their neighborhood.

Petition C specifies limits on car trips, sound and lights, and also limits the sports usage footprint to 20 percent of a parcel. If passed by voters, it would negate Petition A.

“I recognize the intent of the language, to let privately owned property to be used for recreation,” Wilkins said, “but there are not very many, very large lots left. Most of them are too hilly and steep.

“The reality is that these restrictions are such that this is impossible to imagine this will spawn several small fields in town.”

Leedy agreed, saying he understood the rationale but that the numbers seemed arbitrary and unreasonable.

The board unanimously voted 7-0 against supporting Petition C.

The outcome now rests in the hands of the voters. All three will appear on the ballot, with the indication of whether the Planning Board supports it.

Full text of the petitions and ballots are on the town website, http://amherstnh.gov/.