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Yes, there are exemptions for older adults over 70 years of age if they qualify financially. There is an income limit and an estate limit. It is $650 off the tax bill per year.
You can file for an abatement when the actual tax bill goes out. That bill is received on January 1, and the abatement needs to be filed between January 1 and January 31. The assessors will review the property.
They will either abate the value for an error in listing, adjust the grade, correct the area, etc. or they may deny the request for the abatement if they find that the original value was correct. If the taxpayer still disagrees, they can take their case to the Appellate Tax Board and present their case before a commissioner and that Board will make a decision on the value.
Call Melissa Betsold in the administrative office at 413-587-1032 to schedule an appointment.
Please send a letter requesting this information to:
Captain Natalie Stollmeyer, 26 Carlon Drive, Northampton, MA 01060 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Northampton Fire/Rescue Department recommends changing your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries twice a year when you change your clock in the spring and fall.
Yes. The Fire/Rescue Department has a program to provide free smoke detectors/batteries for elderly residents. To make an appointment to have a detector installed, call 413-587-1032.
The Northampton TRIAD Committee coordinates the posting of house numbers. A donation of $5 is suggested but not required. To request a number, call the Fire/Rescue Department or the Council on Aging and leave your name, phone number, and property address.
No, the Fire/Rescue Department does not provide this service. The phone book lists a number of vendors who sell and service fire extinguishers under ‘Fire Extinguishers’ in the yellow pages.
Per M.G.L. Chapter 148, Section 26E, smoke detectors are required in residential structures on each level of habitation and the basement level. Such smoke detectors shall be installed “on the ceiling of each stairway leading to the floor above, near the base of, but not within each stairway and ... outside each separate sleeping area.”
If your event is open to the public, so that any individual walking off the street can attend, whether you are charging a fee for the alcohol or not, you need a short term liquor license. If your event is private and invitation only, you do not need a short term liquor license. If you are unsure whether or not you need one, please call the License Commission office to inquire.
You can either submit the application and the corresponding documents via email or you can drop them off in person. The short term license application is found online and should be submitted COMPLETELY with TIPS certifications for the proposed servers and a certificate of insurance proving liquor liability for the event with a per occurrence amount of no less than $250,000.
Please review the short term liquor license page for information on all of the requirements.
Yes. On December 5, 2019, an order to accept M.G.L. Ch. 138 §12 permitting cordials and liqueurs was signed by the City Council. This acceptance allows wine and malt license holders to also sell cordials and liqueurs, subject to approval of the Local Licensing Authority and the ABCC.
Yes, any changes to your licensed premises, including outdoor seating, requires you to file an application for an alteration of premises, which must be approved by both the Northampton License Commission and the ABCC. Until you receive approval from both commissions, you can not commence alcohol service outside. If you are proposing to place tables and chairs on public ways, you must apply to the Department of Public Works for an outdoor tables and chairs permit.
Any establishment where food is sold the the premises contains kitchen and dining room equipment and the capacity for preparing, cooking and serving food, is required to have a common victualler license. Licenses are issued on an annual basis for a cost of $50.00. The common victualler application is found online and is required to be submitted with the supplemental documents that can be found here. Applications must be submitted at least one week prior to the next scheduling License Commission meeting.
A 2001 Institute study of 23 intersections in the United States reported that converting intersections from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent.1 Similar results were reported by Eisenman et al.: a 75 percent decrease in injury crashes and a 37 percent decrease in total crashes at 35 intersections that were converted from traffic signals to roundabouts.2 Studies of intersections in Europe and Australia that were converted to roundabouts have reported 41-61 percent reductions in injury crashes and 45-75 percent reductions in severe injury crashes.3
In the study of crashes at Maryland roundabouts, Institute researchers concluded that unsafe speeds were an important driver crash factor. Some drivers may not have seen the roundabout in time. Measures to alert drivers of the need to reduce speeds (e.g., speed limit signs well in advance of roundabouts) and increase the conspicuity of roundabouts (e.g., larger roundabout ahead signs and YIELD signs, enhanced landscaping of center islands, pavement with reflector markings) may help to reduce crashes at roundabouts. Certain design features such as adequate curvature of approach roads also may aid in reducing speeds.
A recent Institute study documented missed opportunities to improve traffic flow and safety at 10 urban intersections suitable for roundabouts where either traffic signals were installed or major modifications were made to signalized intersections.8 It was estimated that the use of roundabouts instead of traffic signals at these 10 intersections would have reduced vehicle delays by 62-74 percent. This is equivalent to approximately 325,000 fewer hours of vehicle delay on an annual basis.
The additional travel lanes in multi-lane roundabouts increase the complexity of the driving task. Information is not yet available on drivers' attitudes toward multi-lane roundabouts in the United States.
File a zoning permit with the Building Department describing your project to determine if you just need a building permit or if you need a public review/public hearing for wetlands, zoning relief, architectural review etc. NOTE: Not all projects require a public hearing.
The permit path to project completion varies depending on the zoning district where your property is located, whether or not there are wetlands and how big your project is.
Other permits may be required from the Department of Public Works. Please visit their page.
You must apply for the appropriate permit in the Office of Planning & Sustainability by following these instructions.
Application deadline is generally 30 days prior to the public hearing. Staff will not schedule a public hearing, however, until an application is complete with all the needed information so the application can potentially be acted on the same night. The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Conservation Commission generally meet second and fourth Thursdays. The Central Business Architecture Committee meets the first Tuesdays, and other boards as needed.
It is strongly urged that all applicants check with appropriate city staff before filing an application to ensure that all information and materials required to address the project are submitted with the application.
Permit Type and Standards
Site Plan Approval - Planning Board: review looks at the details of a project (e.g., traffic mitigation, stormwater, pedestrian access), not the use. The board can only deny a site plan if the project cannot meet the technical criteria-- usually only if an applicant refuses to provide necessary information. Some projects require special permits and site plan approval simultaneously. Other agencies and representatives can help review major and complex projects to provide feedback to applicants and boards.
Required Vote: Majority of members present.
Special Permit - Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals: review determines whether or not the proposed use is appropriate based on the permit criteria. The board may deny a project if it finds that the criteria are not met, or cannot be met even with conditions.
Required Vote: Board super-majority (5 planning board or 3 zoning board)
Special Permit - Planning Board: for Multifamily or Mixed Commercial / Residential within 1/2 mile of train or bus pulse point if 10% are affordable units, and reduction of parking to encourage density.
Required Vote: Majority of the Board
Subdivision Approval of projects requiring New Roads - Planning Board: based on infrastructure standards, and Approval Not Required (ANR) of survey plans, based on sufficiency of the frontage.
Required Vote: Majority of members present
Central Business Architecture - Central Business Architecture Committee: review of the design of buildings, not the uses, in accordance with existing standards.
Wetlands permits / Order of Conditions and Determination of Applicability - Conservation Commission: review is of the wetlands impacts based on specific criteria, not the desirability of a project.
Required Vote: Majority of members present
Demolition Delay and Historic District - Historical Commission: review is based on the specific historic preservation or compatibility standards in the regulations, not on the desirability of a project.
Required Vote: Majority of members present
Applications and supporting materials for pending projects that require a public hearing are available at pending permits page or Planning & Sustainability, City Hall, 210 Main St., Second Floor, Northampton (8:45 AM to 4:15 PM). Planning staff is available to answer questions.
Public Hearing notices are available at the Daily Hampshire Gazette (search for Northampton) and public agendas are posted on the City's Agenda Center. For some projects abutters will get mailed a notice about two weeks prior to the hearing, and a notice will be posted on the property. Notices are not mailed for continued public hearings, but they are posted at the agenda center.
Not all projects require a public hearing. Those projects may be reviewed at the Building Department website.
Comments and questions may be made to city staff via email or voicemail ahead of the public hearing. Comments may also be made during the public hearing for that item.
Public hearings open at or after the time advertised, never early. The chair will open the hearing and the applicant will present their plans and the board will then ask its questions. After that, members of the public are invited to ask questions and offer any comments. Written comments, including the name and address of the person making the comment, may be submitted to the board up until the time the public hearing is closed. Most public hearings are closed and decisions are issued on the same night, although some complicated projects or incomplete filings may be continued to a specified date and time.
The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historical Commission, Conservation Commission, and Central Business Architecture Committee hear permit applications at advertised public hearings. Depending on the relevant statute, the city or the applicant may publish legal notices and notify abutters. Anyone is welcome at the public hearings and invited to participate.
Boards are made up of unpaid community volunteers, dedicating their time to serve our community. Planning & Sustainability staff assists applicants, community members, and boards to ensure a legal, fair, and transparent process following regulations and broader Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives.
Neither the Mayor nor City Councilors review or approve permits.
The Board determines when there is enough information to close the public hearing. The Board must make a decision based upon regulations and adopted plans and consideration of public comments. There are often many ways to address the standards. The Board must evaluate what the applicant has presented and whether that application meets the standards as presented or with conditions. The Board cannot redesign a project based on ideas generated during public hearings.
Approval Standards: Public comments are very important and often persuasive, especially when they align with the regulatory standards. Testimony does not replace, however, the board's reliance on other information, statutes, city plans and regulations, and case law. (See Unrepresented Democracy in Local Zoning and Planning Boards). The City writes its own zoning and other ordinances, typically based on the City’s Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan (updated 2021), which includes climate resilience and regeneration, bike and pedestrian, and open space elements. Projects such as affordable and attainable housing and encouraging land use patterns that support commercial centers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions often come from community-wide goals even when immediate abutters might have a different vision.
After the public hearing is closed, no new testimony or information can be accepted. The permit granting board deliberates and makes their decision. Planning & Sustainability staff then issues the necessary decision. Notice of the decisions varies based on statutory requirements, with notice of Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board decisions mailed to abutters. Abutters have the right to appeal, within strict appeal periods and procedures established by law for each permit process. Appeal periods are noted on decisions.
Applicants must pick up certified copies of the decision from the City Clerk at the end of the appeal period and record the decision at the Register of Deeds before seeking a building permit.
Q: I hear this project will reduce the overall number of parking spots downtown by about 57. It feels like it’s already hard to find a spot.
A: Over the years, we have commissioned several studies to look at our parking downtown, and all have agreed that the plan includes sufficient parking for downtown. The parking garage (with a bridge leading right into Thornes Market in the heart of downtown) always has spaces available, and the first hour is free. Numbers show that about 12% of the people who park there pay nothing, 20% pay just 75 cents for two hours, and another third pay $1.50 for three hours!
Northampton offers an experience as a downtown and offers a place where people want to come and hang out. The Picture Main Street project builds on that with more space for people to hang out, dine on the sidewalk, and walk or roll side-by-side down the sidewalk.
In 2014, Walker Parking Consultants found:
“Overall, the parking system had capacity on our survey days, and that finding is consistent with informal observations made on other visits and with information provided by staff. Our off-street, public occupancy rates were very close to counts done in 2000 for a previous study (we found 83 percent peak occupancy, whereas the earlier study found 85 percent peak occupancy)...Our counts find that under most typical conditions, a driver should be able to find parking within a few blocks.”
The recommendations of this report largely mirror many of the measures enacted by Mayor Sciarra in March 2023 to address the REAL problem - circulation (the fact that cars stayed too long in prime parking spots at the wrong times).
In 2022, Stantec parking expert Jason Schrieber shared in his parking system analysis:
“In peak hours, Main Street is at full capacity and off-street lots are significantly below 85%. This observation can be reversed by adjusting pricing, rather than supply. When front door “Main Street” spaces are priced higher, more remote and less utilized spaces can be priced cheaper, or in times of low-demand, free.”
It was many of the recommendations of this report that were implemented in March of 2023.
Based on feedback from parking managers, enforcement officers, and downtown visitors, Mayor Sciarra believes that Main Street parking has improved. We're now collecting data for a six-month review of the changes made in March and will soon update residents. If more modifications are necessary, the city will make them - in the ongoing cycle of using data to inform good policy.
Q2: I love the angled parking spaces. It’s too hard to parallel park.
A2: There will be many angled parking spots on Main Street and on all of Crafts Avenue.
That said, studies show that angled parking is unsafe. This is part of why Main Street is on the list as one of the most unsafe streets in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Most cities in the USA have parallel parking in their downtowns. In fact, even in Northampton, most of our main arteries are parallel parking - upper and lower Main Street, Pleasant Street, King Street, Gothic, Center, Strong… and so on. People park in all of those locations.
There are also 1,000 front-in parking spaces in lots just off Main Street and the E.J. Gare Garage. We must embrace the idea that the city’s success is not built on being able to park directly in front of a given store on Main Street; it’s built on being a great place to visit, shop, see a show, and eat. We need to focus on what that means in the modern economy and build more of that. The Picture Main Street project is a critical, once-in-a-generation opportunity to use state funds to help us achieve what’s next.
Q3: Angled parking is easier for visitors with disabilities.
Q3: Some definitely think so, and some prefer parallel. It depends on the individual and how their vehicle is set up to assist their disability. We’ve heard from fans of both approaches, which is why the Picture Main Street plan includes accessible spaces on Main Street that are both angled parking and parallel parking style.
The Picture Main Street plan also increases the number of accessible parking spots on Main Street by two additional spaces.
Q4: But 57 spaces? That seems like a lot!
A4: We have tested this reduction in spaces over the past three summers. The current outdoor dining program incorporates 57 parking spaces. This is a live test of what it’s like to live without those spaces, and it’s worked to bring people back downtown since the pandemic. The outdoor dining and other vibrancy activities downtown have restored the city’s local receipts revenues, such as meal taxes - more space for more people really works!
Q: Why do we need bike lanes on Main Street?
A: Since 2015, Northampton has been a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Complete Street Program. “A Complete Street is one that provides safe and accessible options for all travel modes - walking, biking, transit, and vehicles – for people of all ages and abilities.” This is already baked into Northampton’s culture and governing philosophy - and the Picture Main Street project is just implementing the latest and best in urban design to realize these worthwhile goals.
From the first survey conducted in early 2020 and after several initial community meetings, the following top 5 goals were identified for the redesign:
Dedicated bike lanes are great for everyone. They result in fewer injuries, improved traffic flow, safer sidewalks, they’re better for the environment, and they make people healthier.
Q2: We’ve got a great bike path that goes right next to Main Street on the rail trail - why can’t cyclists just use that?
A2: They can, and they do - but cyclists have a legal right to use Main Street (and every street) safely.
It can be hard to change our way of thinking about our roads, but we must. The fact is bicycles, pedestrians, and cars use Main Street - and each has an equal right to a safe amount of space to enjoy. Bicycles should be able to ride down the street and have a chance to pull up next to their destination on Main Street just like a car does. It’s not equitable to say they should be relegated to just the bike path.
The good news is that there’s plenty of room for every kind of transportation people want to use. The science shows that we can accommodate separated bike lanes on Main Street without harming traffic flow.
Current and future bicycle and pedestrian access must be incorporated, and the community has overwhelmingly supported (66%) separate bike lanes on Main Street. This, coupled with the engineering analysis required for MassDOT’s pre-25% submittal that describes safety tradeoffs for different treatment types, led to the separated lane being selected above others by the traffic safety specialists.
The Picture Main Street plan reallocates space that previously has only focused on wide, inconsistent, and dangerous vehicle lanes and assigns it to be shared with the other road users so that it’s genuinely a Main Street for everyone. Again, while today’s Main Street caters to vehicles, the redesign will ensure that Main Street is equitable, viable, and accessible for all. Numerous stakeholder meetings, surveys, and community meetings were held to evaluate interests and tradeoffs selected by residents. This information is accessible here.
In addition to the reasons stated above, in April 2023, the new Vulnerable Road Users laws went into effect in Massachusetts. These laws include a variety of measures intended to increase roadway safety in Massachusetts. In accordance with MGL c. 90 §14, in passing a vulnerable user, the operator of a motor vehicle shall pass at a safe distance of not less than 4 feet and at a reasonable and proper speed. As a result of this new law, the installation of separated bike lanes has become an imperative inclusion in the Picture Main Street design to ensure the safety of cyclists and to comply with state law.
Q3: I’ve heard that separated bike lanes aren’t safer - and that there’s a study out there that proves it.
A3: Some have raised concerns about bicycle/pedestrian conflicts with a separate lane. The lane will elevate cyclists and make them more visible to vehicles and pedestrians. Cyclists will thus be easier to see by pedestrians than if they were in the lane of traffic blocked from view by parked cars.
Others point to an article in Forbes Magazine claiming that separated bike lanes are not safer. This article was written by a person who works at a conservative think tank focusing on energy and the environment and who has written extensively advocating for increased use of fossil fuels, more pipelines, and looser environmental regulations, including a book titled Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies are Destroying America's Economy. The study she cites in the article was a master’s thesis, not a peer-reviewed study. Just over a month and a half later, the same magazine - Forbes - published a story entitled, “Protected Bike Lanes Increase Safety, Save Money And Protect The Planet, New Report Finds.”
The Federal Highway Administration recently (February 2023) released a summary of its report about Crash Modification Factors (CMF) for separated bike lanes, using Cambridge, Massachusetts, as one of the study locations. The research found that, at a 99% confidence interval, separated bike lanes are expected to reduce crash rates by approximately 50% over conventional bike lanes.
In 2016, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) cited “Studies from cities across America show that adding protected bike lanes significantly increases bike ridership on those streets with rates ranging from 21% to 171%. Additionally, People for Bikes states, 'On D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue protected bike lane, bicycle volumes increased 200 percent after the facilities were installed (District Department of Transportation, 2012),' and 'The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase 75 percent in its first year alone (National Institute for Transportation and Communities).'
Q: This is such a huge undertaking that it’s common sense to set up a trial run to ensure this will work.
A: We do not have the ability to conduct a demonstration project that would put all the pieces accurately together. We are moving toward 75% design details based on the volume of study, community input, community goal setting, and engineering expertise regarding road diet and safety improvements.
There is no part of the Picture Main Street design that will be implemented for the first time with this project. These are tried and true strategies that have been tested by engineering experts all over the country. Northampton is not the first municipality to implement this type of roadway redesign. Similar implementations have occurred throughout the Commonwealth, and the design and solutions have been thoroughly tested and proven effective.
For example, there are existing downtown streets in Northampton with greater traffic volumes than Main Street that have two lanes with parallel parking (King Street, Lower Main Street, Pleasant Street), which shows us that traffic can be accommodated and function with emergency access.
The proposed redesign is not just about physical changes to the street. The project involves interrelated measures that would be impossible to implement in a trial run. Some of these measures would require long lead times. If we only do the easy stuff and leave out important elements, a trial run will not show how the system will actually work. Rather, it will be a waste of time and money.
Aside from the technical reasons why this won’t work listed below, it takes time for people to get used to using a new layout and to develop new habits. The period of a trial run would be a little like the first week of actual plan implementation, only worse. Think about the roundabouts that have been successfully implemented here and elsewhere. When they were first proposed, many people were horrified and were convinced they wouldn't work. And when they first went in, there was plenty of confusion as people struggled to learn how to navigate them. We all know that the roundabout at the Coolidge Bridge has forever changed Friday afternoon coming from Amherst.
To further explain why a trial run is not simply a low-cost matter of placing cones in the street to see how it works, here are just some of the specific measures that would have to be part of a realistic trial run:
Thus a trial run cannot be developed to accomplish what is intended by the Picture Main Street design. However, we have dozens of examples of these treatments being implemented successfully elsewhere.
That being said, one component of the Picture Main Street design has been successfully tested for the last three years - see FAQ PARKING, A4.
Q: There haven't been traffic studies to make sure this will work.
A: This is incorrect. MassDOT requires a study as part of the justification for the proposed design. In January 2021, Toole Design submitted its 967-page Functional Design Report with all the data, statistics, and analysis that form the backbone of the proposed design solution. This report is linked within the Storymap on the city’s website. MassDOT engineers spent months reviewing the submittals to ensure that the standards and design justification were met. They do not allow a project to move forward to the 25% design public hearing until this data has been fully vetted.
Q: Can two lanes handle as much traffic as four lanes?
A: Main Street doesn’t have four lanes today. Upper and lower Main Street are one lane in each direction with parallel parking on either side. It’s the width of middle Main Street where drivers create additional, undefined “lanes” and this space is used to weave in and out of other traffic which creates an unsafe condition for all other users.
The Storymap describes the pros and cons of a design alternative that defines four lanes of traffic in the section of Main Street that could accommodate this. The result is sidewalks that would be less than 5’ wide and unable to accommodate ADA-compliant restaurant use, narrower curb extensions, and fewer trees, to name a few. This would be inconsistent with all the public input supporting the goal of wider sidewalks and safer crosswalks.
Of the several design alternatives developed based on public comments, surveys, and stakeholder meetings, the final alternative approved by MassDOT to move forward was selected as a compromise that met the publicly generated goals of the project to a much greater degree than the other alternatives. The analysis of the alternatives reviewed with the goals is included in the functional design report and Storymap.
Q: Narrowing the width of Main Street will cause extreme traffic congestion.
A: Traffic jams in the project area are mostly due to outdated signal timings at four key intersections. We covered this in our 25% design public hearing and it's backed by in-depth engineering studies. Lower Main Street, which has a higher traffic volume, already functions well. Our plan—adding a third turning lane, clearly marking lanes, reducing crossing distances, and updating signal timings—will manage traffic flow without reducing current capacity. Much of this congestion is created when drivers weave within the width of the roadway that is not clearly delineated. All four signalized intersections will have new signal modules and technology to manage flow in a coordinated pattern.
Q: I hear that emergency vehicles won’t be able to make it through the new design.
A: In the initial planning and throughout the planning stages, the Fire/Rescue Department and Police Department reviewed the plans and whatever adjustments they thought were important were made. Both the Fire/Rescue Chief and the Police Chief fully support the approved design. Most of Northampton's roads are two lanes, and our plan adds a third center turning lane. This extra lane allows for smoother emergency vehicle passage, especially when cars comply with the Commonwealth's emergency vehicle and 'Move Over Laws.' The new three-lane design will actually be wider than existing lanes on Pleasant Street, Lower Main Street, and King Street up to Stop & Shop.
Q: Right now, during a snowstorm, the city piles the snow in the middle of the street. Where is the snow going to go in this new design?
A: We recognize that snow management will change with the new layout. Unlike Northampton, most northern cities don't have wide enough streets to store snow in the middle. Our design team has studied how similar communities handle snow removal effectively. This includes Edmonton, Canada, St. Paul, MN, Madison, WI, Cambridge/Somerville/Greenfield, MA, and Burlington, VT. The DPW has been consulted on the change and is developing a plan for snow removal and storage.
Q: Northampton already has lots of vacant storefronts. I’m worried that already stressed businesses will have to close and I’ve heard many business owners downtown don’t support this.
A: We're keenly aware that construction will present challenges for our downtown businesses and residents alike. The project, spread over three seasons, will have phases of intense activity followed by quieter periods. This cyclical nature offers both challenges and windows of opportunity. To navigate this, we're in close collaboration with the business community and Toole Design to strategize ways to mitigate the impact and maximize business benefits. Our city's economic development team is also actively brainstorming events, exhibits, and special programming to draw people downtown and support businesses during the construction phases.
Q2: I’ve heard that there are no plans for how to handle construction and the city won’t say what the schedule will be and what will be the impact on businesses and traffic.
A2: As stated from the beginning of this project and reiterated in the public hearing, it is critical to develop a construction phasing plan that minimizes impact on downtown businesses to the greatest extent feasible. Mayor Sciarra is actively working on strategies to mitigate the impacts of construction on businesses and every other downtown user. In fact, the top priority for everyone involved in this project is to discuss planning for the construction phase. We are eager to address this concern as soon as we reach the project stage where we have the necessary information, as scheduling cannot be determined until the construction plans are finalized.
Northampton recently completed its 25% submission to the MassDOT TIP program. From here, MassDOT works with our consultants on the details of the project, mapping out the finest details and measuring the inches between specific elements of the plan. In order to get here, Northampton had to provide detailed technical specifications and demonstrate that there had been significant public input to the process. MassDOT held the public hearing in Northampton in April 2023.
Toole Design is currently working on the 75% design plans that will meet the criteria for submission to MassDOT. After this submittal, Toole will help the city develop a cost and time-effective plan with business community feedback for phasing construction to minimize the impact on downtown businesses. We are very eager to work with downtown stakeholders to develop plans, strategies, and communication tools to keep everyone informed and engaged during construction and to incentivize people to come downtown during that time. Here is the timeline given during the public hearing. This may be pushed back depending on the length of review time undertaken by MassDOT.
Q: Where can trucks unload if not in the middle?
A: The plans for the redesign incorporate dedicated truck loading/unloading spaces on lower Main Street as well as four locations on upper Main Street. These are distributed between the north and south sides and the east and west ends of Main Street. Unloading at the curb is far safer for the drivers who will not be stepping into traffic to unload and for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles who will not have oncoming traffic obscured by the large trucks parked in the middle of the road.
Q: I hear this plan cuts down trees downtown - how is that a good idea?
A: The city’s Tree Warden and the Northampton Urban Forestry Commission fully support removing many of Main Street's existing trees, which are in varying states of health and some nearing the end of their life cycle, and planting a more extensive and healthier tree canopy. This is based on a thorough 2021 tree health assessment. The current trees were often planted in insufficient space, compromising their health. In their place, we'll be planting a substantial number of new, healthy trees in a more sustainable manner—increased soil volume, connected trenches, and structural soil. These improvements aim to extend tree lifespan and prevent sidewalk damage. Tree planting isn't an afterthought; our design intentionally allocates space for healthy tree growth. We'll be increasing the overall tree count by 36. It's worth noting that in our Picture Main Street survey, 80% of respondents ranked new trees and green infrastructure as their top priority.
Q: My customers are not just people who can walk and bike into town or only those who live within a four-mile radius. Even if I live within four miles, I still don’t want to have to bike or walk.
A: No one is suggesting that anyone must walk or bike downtown. If someone needs or wants to drive downtown, there is plenty of parking to accommodate them - see FAQ PARKING. This data point is meant to show that many of the city’s residents have walking or biking access to downtown and may opt to come downtown this way, particularly if the road is made safer. The redesign is planned to create a safe space for all who arrive by whatever chosen mode. Those who park and walk to various destinations need to have safe spaces like those who arrive by walking or biking.
Q: I’ve heard some people say that this redesign will make it harder for people with accessibility issues to navigate or park. Some say that accessible/handicapped spaces are being removed for the redesign.
A: We've heard questions and concerns about the project's impact on accessibility. It's crucial to set the record straight: improving accessibility is one of the core goals of the Picture Main Street redesign. Whether you're navigating public spaces or accessing private buildings, the new design aims to make life easier, especially for those facing mobility challenges or age-related issues.
Main Street currently faces multiple accessibility challenges—narrow and uneven sidewalks, as well as curb ramps and signals that fail to meet national accessibility standards. These issues restrict the mobility and independence of residents and visitors alike. The new design aims to fix this by shortening crosswalks, dedicating separate lanes for different modes of transportation, ensuring at least five feet of clear sidewalk space, and increasing the number of accessible parking spots. There will be two more accessible parking spaces than what we have now, many of which will be angled for those who find that to be easier access.
Our partner, Toole Design, has incorporated numerous public comments into their plans. Supported by current engineering best practices, their design includes several key changes that will improve both mobility and access on Main Street.
Specific ways the Picture Main Street project improves access:
Q: We shouldn’t be wasting city money on changes that aren’t needed.
A: As of right now, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is picking up $19 million dollars of the cost to make Main Street safer, accessible, vibrant, and environmentally friendly. At the same time, Mayor Sciarra has set aside $3 million worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds to upgrade all of the city’s 100+ year-old water, sewer, and drainage infrastructure while construction is underway. That project is decades overdue, and we’ll never have a better opportunity. Without Picture Main Street/DOT covering street excavation, the city would be paying substantially more than $3M for the water and sewer upgrades as we would bear the full cost of excavation.
These things have to happen. There are laws and regulations about how they have to happen. The Picture Main Street project is the result of years of careful planning, community discussion, and compromise that drove a solution that will ensure our downtown continues to be a place where people want to live, work, and play in the future.
Q: I hear that it’s not true that Main Street isn’t safe, or that it isn’t that bad. I hear that the accident data is cherry-picked and exaggerated to justify the project. There have to be safer ways to do this that are less costly and less drastic.
A: The safety data described in the 25% design public hearing was a snapshot of the detailed safety audit and analysis mandated by MassDOT to be presented in order to justify the project. That analysis is available here. MassDOT engineers evaluated the city’s design engineering analysis for 8+ months to ensure that the project met their standards.
Main Street is dangerous, which is why MassDOT has prioritized this project and is making such a significant investment in our city.
Q: There wasn’t enough public input on this project. The city wants to do what it wants to do and doesn’t want to hear what people think.
A: The Picture Main Street project has been presented to, and discussed with, the community in many public meetings over the past three years, and changes were made to the initial design based on feedback from those meetings. One of Mayor Sciarra’s first acts as a new mayor was to preserve more angled parking in the chosen plan based on public input.
This slide was part of MassDOT’s Public Hearing Presentation. Minutes and some recordings can be found at northamptonma.gov. This is not a comprehensive list of all public meetings, because many city committees, commissions, and boards had public, legally posted meetings about the project as well.
Q: They’re going to eliminate the pedestrian-only signal at Main and King Streets - that’s my favorite!
A: The all-way simultaneous pedestrian signal has been said to be a different or charming feature of this intersection. However, this feature is not safe and does not meet safety standards for today's streets. This is because it creates long delays for both pedestrians, who have to wait full long signal cycles to cross, and for vehicles that have to wait a longer ped signal before the green. This extra length of time also affects all the other signals in the corridor.
Because of these long delays, pedestrians are more likely to walk against the signal and risk harm. Similarly, vehicles are likely to speed through a red to avoid waiting for the cycle for green again. The safer solution designed for these intersections is called a “leading pedestrian interval” which allows pedestrians to cross with traffic, but they are provided the walk sign before the green vehicular signal. That puts them in the crosswalk ahead of vehicles in order to be visible.
Food establishments are prohibited from providing prepared food to customers using polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or other nonrecyclable disposable food service ware. Retail establishments are prohibited from selling or distributing polystyrene food service ware to customers. This includes the sale of polystyrene ware for home food use. Food establishments must provide disposable food service ware accessories only upon request by customers or at a self-serve station.
The new ordinance replaces the single-use plastic bag ban (Section 272-18, below) since it incorporates the prohibition on single-use plastic bags.
All sales outlets, stores, shops, restaurants, markets, supermarkets, clubs, pharmacies, or other places of business located within the City of Northampton that sell or convey merchandise directly to the ultimate consumer.
On January 21, 2021, the Northampton City Council approved a new plastic reduction ordinance, which bans styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic take-out containers and instead requires prepared food to be packaged in biodegradable, recyclable, reusable or compostable containers. See a full copy of the ordinance here. This new ordinance replaces the single-use plastic bag ban (Section 272-18) since it incorporates the prohibition on single-use plastic bags.
On January 21, 2021, the Northampton City Council approved a new plastic reduction ordinance, which bans styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic take-out containers and instead requires prepared food to be packaged in biodegradable, recyclable, reusable or compostable containers. The ordinance took effect on January 1, 2022. This ordinance replaces the single-use plastic bag ban (Section 272-18) since it incorporates the prohibition on single-use plastic bags.
Reusable bags - bags that have a thickness greater than 3.0 mils and are specifically designed for multiple uses and are made of thick recyclable plastic, cloth fabric, or other durable materials that do not decompose into harmful chemical components. A reusable bag may be recyclable or compostable and is specifically designed and manufactured for reuse. Biodegradable bags - Bags that: (1) contact no polymers derived from fossil fuels; and (2) are intended for single use and will decompose in a natural setting to an environmentally beneficial material at a rate comparable to other biodegradable materials such as paper, leaves, and food waste. Compostable plastic bags - plastic bags that: (1) conform to the current America Society for Testing and Materials International D6400 for compostability; (2) are certified and labeled as meeting the ASTM D6400 standard specification by a recognized verification entity; and (3) conform to any other standards deemed acceptable by this section.
Food establishments using any disposable food service ware shall use biodegradable, compostable, reusable, or recyclable food service ware.
Yes, flexible transparent covering (commonly referred to as plastic wrap); thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning or newspapers, typically without handles. Product bags are not exempt from this ordinance’s prohibitions; packaging utilized for prescription drugs.
If it is determined that a violation of this ordinance has occurred, the Mayor's designee (Health and Human Services Inspectors) shall issue a warning notice for the initial violation.
If an additional violation of this ordinance has occurred within one year after a warning notice has been issued for an initial violation, the Mayor's designee shall issue a notice of violation and shall impose a penalty against the food or retail establishment. Each penalty of this ordinance’s clauses shall be no less than:
Payment shall be made within twenty-one (21) days to the City Clerk. Non-payment of such fines may be enforced through civil action in the Northampton District Court. No more than one (1) penalty shall be imposed upon a food or retail establishment within a seven (7) calendar day period.
There are both benefits and services provided to veterans.
Benefits related to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for veterans of all wars and their dependents. Services relate to processing claims for veterans and their dependents. These include compensation, V.A. pensions (service and non-service connected) rehabilitation, counseling relative to employment, Social Security, Supplementary Security Income and a variety of other areas.
The department has recently been successful in helping to get the burial allowance increased for those veterans who have died without funds so that they might be afforded a dignified burial.
When the blue lights at traffic signals in downtown Northampton and Florence are flashing a snow emergency is in effect. That means no overnight on-street parking.
When the blue lights on the traffic signals in downtown Northampton or Florence are flashing, a winter parking ban is in effect, there is no on-street parking throughout Northampton from 12:01 a.m. - 6 a.m. (2 a.m. - 7 a.m. for Main Street). When a Snow Emergency is called, a city-wide parking ban goes into effect: overnight parking is prohibited on any street from 12:01 a.m. - 6 a.m., except downtown on Main Street where the prohibition is from 2 a.m. - 7 a.m. Snow Emergencies remain in effect until canceled and are often enforced for more than one night. The Winter Information Line is updated and alert emails are sent when the Snow Emergency is canceled. Overnight parking is available in the John E. Gare garage at all hours on a space-available basis. There is a fee for overnight parking in the garage. Free overnight parking is available in the city parking lot on Armory Street (near the Parking Garage) from 8 p.m. - 8 a.m. If you park on a city street or in a city parking lot (except the Armory Street lot) your vehicle will be subject to ticketing and towing. This is a public safety issue. Parking bans can extend a few days, stay informed by calling the snow information line at 413-586-6969 or by signing up with Reverse-911 to receive email, text, or telephone updates.
Snow emergencies remain in effect until canceled and are often enforced for more than one night. The Winter Information Line is updated and alert emails are sent when the Snow emergency is cancelled. Sign up here to receive alerts and stay informed.
Overnight parking is available in the E.J. Gare Garage at all hours, on a space-available basis. There is a fee for overnight parking in the garage. During Winter Parking Bans, free overnight parking is available in the city parking lot on Armory Street (near the garage) from 8 p.m. - 8 a.m. All cars must be moved by 8 a.m. and cannot return until 10 a.m. and moved again from 6 p.m. allowed to return at 8 p.m. for plow crews to clear that parking lot.
Occasionally mailboxes are damaged due to snowplowing operations. The Department of Public Works makes every effort to avoid damaging mailboxes but sometimes due to the amount of snow, the weight of the snow or ice, and the speed the plows need to travel, mailboxes are sometimes damaged. If you are unable to receive mail as a result go to your local Post Office and make arrangements for mail pick up. If your mailbox was damaged as a result of city snowplowing operations visit the City Clerk's Office website for information on filing a claim.
Winter sand is free for residents (two bucket maximum) and is available at the Department of Public Works, 125 Locust Street, on a self-serve basis any time the main Department of Public Works gates are open.
It is important for the health and safety of residents that sidewalks are cleared of snow within 24 hours from the end of a snow event. If you are responsible for a sidewalk on your property please clear the snow as soon as possible. Fines can be levied by the Police Department if snow is not cleared. Changes were recently made to the sidewalk snow removal ordinance, a link to the ordinance is available below.
Initiative to lowering the municipal voting age (Vote16) (2021); Drafted and introduced a revised plastics ordinance, 'Plastic Reduction & Sustainability Ordinance' (2019-2020); No Hate Space Anti-Bullying Assemblies at Northampton High School (2011); Support Letter for Lilly Library's Young Adult Program (2011); Main Event Teen Center Benefit Concert (2007); Mayors Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage (2006); Holiday Giving (2006); Youth Commission Radio Show (current); Northampton Public Access Television (2005); Art benches in downtown Northampton (2005); Bridge the Gap Concert to fundraise for Senior Center (August 2004); Opposition to the Northampton Noise Ordinance Youth Summit (January 2004)
The Youth Commission meets in the Hearing Room in City Hall at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month (but not on legal holidays) during the school year. The meetings are open and the public is welcome.