Cowls woodland since 1888
Up to 170 cottage style student housing units sheltering a total of 680 tenants could soon be developed in the Cushman Village Center near Amherst's number one employer and target demographic, the University of Massachusetts.
Landmark Properties bills "The Retreat" as a "cluster conservation subdivision" that will "provide students with an award winning, high quality, highly amenitized lifestyle in their own community of single family and attached homes."
Map of proposed development (click to enlarge)
The 154 acre parcel is currently owned and manged by the W.D. Cowls company, the state's largest private landowner. The property is in Chapter 61 Forest Conservation. As a result the wooded acreage is current valued at $67/acre or a little over $10,000.
The Amherst Select Board will have to sign off on releasing the land from Chapter 61, and they have 120 days to implement a"right of first refusal".
Considering the $6.5 million purchase price, it's highly unlikely the town will buy it. Amherst could, however, transfer the right of first refusal to another non-profit agency, such as the Kestrel Land Trust. But again, at that price, hard to match.
If developed by a private entity the project would also pay Amherst hundreds of thousands in property taxes annually.
Amherst currently has an exceedingly tight 3.5% vacancy rate and conversions of single family homes to student rooming houses have caused problems all over town.
A classic Catch 22: any proposal to add student housing is met with NIMBY resistance for fear of it becoming a riotous Frat Row. Because no dense developments have been constructed to match increasing enrollment at UMass, the penny ante developers have converted traditional single family homes to student housing with no professional management, a recipe for disaster.
Safe to say locals are already sharpening their pitchforks and soaking torches in gasoline.