The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a zoning amendment to ban motor vehicle sales as part of future developments in the Central Business-Gateway Districts on King Street and Pleasant Street.

Auto dealerships had been allowed in those districts if a special permit was approved by the Planning Board. The change was initiated via a petition signed by 16 residents.

In my remarks supporting the zoning change, I cited a need to encourage more housing in those districts and the hope that this is a first step to make them less automobile centric.

They are intended to “create a gateway to downtown Northampton and adjacent residential neighborhoods, develop a pedestrian-scale public realm, facilitate redevelopment of the area with a broad range of moderate to high-density commercial, mixed-use and residential buildings” and “provide increased options for housing and services that benefit residents in the surrounding neighborhoods and travelers along the corridor.”

The zoning amendment comes after Carla Cosenzi, president of the TommyCar Auto Group, in January filed an application for a special permit to develop a 14,400-square-foot automotive dealership at 171-187 King St., which is in the Gateway District. That 5.35-acre site has been vacant for nearly two decades. City action on the application was delayed because it did not meet many requirements of the current zoning.

The zoning change will not prevent Cosenzi for up to eight years to include a dealership in developing that property, which she purchased last year for more than $5 million. If she proceeds with plans for a dealership, Cosenzi, a Northampton resident, said it would be built on less than half of the site, and she is open to a partnership for a mixed-use project.

The Planning Board would have to determine that such a project meets the other zoning requirements for the Gateway District.

City Council control over school budget

The City Council on Thursday referred to two of its committees an order filed by Quaverly Rothenberg of Ward 3 and Jeremy Dubs of Ward 4 that would give the City Council authority to increase the school budget over the amount requested by the mayor.

The proposal to adopt state legislation contained in the provisions of Chapter 329 of the Acts of 1987 was referred to the Finance Committee, of which I am vice chair, and the Committee on Legislative Matters. They are likely to hold a joint meeting to issue recommendations on the proposed order, either at the Finance Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 8, or the Legislative Matters meeting at 5:30 p.m., Monday, May 13.

If both the City Council and mayor approve adoption of the state legislation, under certain circumstances it would permit the City Council to increase the total amount appropriated for the schools over that requested by the mayor. The School Committee would have to recommend the higher amount, and at least six members of the City Council would have to agree.

Under the city charter, the City Council may only delete or decrease amounts, except expenditures required by law, in the budget proposed by the mayor. The charter states that “except on the recommendation of the mayor, the City Council shall not increase any item in or the total of the proposed operating budget.”

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra later this month will submit to the City Council her proposed budget for fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1. Sciarra again pledged a 4 percent increase to Northampton Public Schools, while asking other municipal departments to limit their increases for fiscal year 2025 to 2 1/2 percent.

The Northampton Public Schools received $36,565,747 in the current (fiscal year 2024) municipal budget, an increase of $1,406,375 (4 percent) from the previous year, the largest given to any municipal department. That included a special one-year appropriation of $1.2 million from the Fiscal Stability Stabilization Fund. A 4 percent increase in next year’s school budget would bring it to about $38 million. Superintendent Portia Bonner in December proposed a $40,778,585 budget for fiscal year 2025. However, a majority of the School Committee on April 11 approved a $42 million budget – an increase of nearly 15 percent from this year – to avoid eliminating jobs.

The City Council Finance Commitee has scheduled budget hearings at 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 29, and Thursday, May 30, in the City Council chambers, 212 Main St.

Hampshire Pride

Hampshire Pride again will be celebrated between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., Saturday, May 4, in downtown Northampton. I plan to join my City Council colleagues and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra in celebrating our LGBTQIA+ community.

A parade will leave Sheldon Field on Bridge Street at 11 a.m. and proceed along Main Street to Crafts Avenue. Traffic downtown will be rerouted during the parade.

It will be followed by a festival in the Armory Street parking lot, including music, food and beverages, other vendors, and speakers, including the mayor who will deliver a proclamation at 1 p.m.

ValleyBike Share

The ValleyBike Share program, which provides short-term rentals of electric-assist bicycles to residents and commuters in eight area communities, is expected to resume later this month with a new vendor, Drop Mobility, based on Toronto.

The bicycles were not available last year after the previous vendor, Bewegen, also based in Canada, initiated bankruptcy proceedings.

Up to 500 bicycles will be available at 79 charging stations in Northampton, Amherst (including the University of Massachusetts campus), Easthampton, South Hadley, Holyoke, Chicopee, Springfield, and West Springfield. The bicycles are intended for recreational use or short commutes. Monthly and annual memberships are sold.

Northampton is the lead agency for ValleyBike Share, which began in 2018, and this year’s contract is calculated at $1,200 per bike or $600,000. Each of the participating communities contributes to that cost.

International Language Institute seeks host families

The International Language Institute, 25 New South St., is recruiting participants for its home-stay program that allows international students to experience life with local families. The institute matches area hosts with international students who are enrolled in ILI’s intensive English program 21 hours a week for between one and 12 months.

Hosts are sought who live within walking or biking distance of ILI or whose homes are on a bus route. Hosts are asked to provide a private bedroom and are paid a weekly stipend of $150 without meals or $250 with meals.

More information is available at or by contacting the institute’s homestay coordinator Amy Ben-Ezra at [email protected].