Landmark Properties recently filed a "Preliminary Subdivision Plan" for The Retreat (along with a check for $10,000), an upscale student housing development bitterly opposed by many North Amherst "neighbors."
147 acre woodland was sold by W.D. Cowls, Inc to Landmark Properties for $6.5 million
The Amherst Planning Board has 45 days to respond, thus the upscale project will come up for public discussion in December. This is only a preliminary round of hearings where the Planning Board offers advice and guidance, so it's not a drop dead approve/disapprove thing.
Henry Street welcome sign
Sure to be controversial -- or I should say more controversial -- are the two "secondary entrances" on Henry Street and Flat Hills Road. Primary access is on Market Hill Road where a service stub was put in when the Atkins Water Treatment plant was constructed back in 1994 on land sold to the town by W.D. Cowls, Inc.
Market Hill Road access near Atkins Water Treatment Plant
Henry Street is of course the home of Amherst's famous Salamander Tunnels, a save the salamander project that brought Amherst international media attention 25 years ago.
Landmark plans to work closely with the Hitchcock Center for the Environment to ensure the little critters do not become extinct in North Amherst (although they are not endangered anywhere else in the country).
Why did the salamander cross Henry Street?
The proposed "Cluster Subdivision" consists of 123 lots, comprised of 175 total housing units -- 104 duplex, 71 single family -- for a total of 641 beds. By clustering the units in a tighter manner more of the natural environment can be forever preserved.
This plan will, however, require Site Plan Review waivers from the Planning Board over frontage and setbacks. Otherwise, to achieve the same number of units allowed by right, much of the open space would need to be sacrificed.
According to the recent state certified Housing Production Plan: "Housing supply has not kept up with increasing demand, resulting in higher housing prices and residents paying more than they can afford to live in Amherst."
Solutions? The Housing Production Plan continues, "Appropriate housing for students, both on and off campus, in order to reduce the demand on the housing market in Amherst."
Amherst's number one demographic -- because of the University of Massachusetts -- consists of "college students" by a whopping 59.4% of our total population. Landlords cater to this market by buying up older homes in the heart of residential neighborhoods, expanding their capacity and cramming them full of students.
Providing safe, convenient housing for 641 students with on-site management at The Retreat could free up 160 single family houses that could revert back to their original target audience: families.
The housing crisis in Amherst is the single most vexing problem to arise over the past generation.
We must not retreat from simple sound solutions.
The Retreat: a blueprint for positive change