Thursday, December 5, 2013

Planning Board Receptive to The Retreat

Crowd outside the overly packed Town Room (Jim Wald photo)

Tonight  in a marathon overly-packed four-hour meeting the Amherst Planning Board heard all the usual complaints about the The Retreat, including traffic congestion, the supposed dangerousness of 10% grade roads (vs 8%), perpendicular parking vs parallel, too much parking (768 spaces for 641 residents) and, as always, the destruction of community in the adjacent historic Cushman Village.

This Preliminary Plan presentation was just a formal starting point for a long involved process that includes every aspect of Amherst town government: Police and Fire Chiefs, DPW, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Building Commissioner and even the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority.

The developer had requested numerous waivers and modifications to codes -- reductions in lot sizes and increases in maximum road elevations (from 8% to 10%), and a few long dead end cul de sacs -- in order to make a "cluster development" work.

A cluster development allows for denser construction, thereby preserving open space.

The Planning Board "proposed conditions" include:  Streetlights at the end of all cul-de-sacs; but the "less dead ends the better", so the board also suggested adding more interconnectedness with other streets to reduce the number of cul de sacs.

Foot traffic was also addressed as the board suggested paved pathways throughout the development with one running outside to the Cushman Store in the village center. 

Parking must allow emergency access for police and fire vehicles with islands every 10-15 car lengths.  Handicapped spaces must be provided and a plan for snow removal.

"Careful landscaping" that preserves as many trees as possible, but the board also recommended clearing some areas of the woodlands for other recreation/socializing opportunities.

Oddly enough the board thought the developers were providing "too much" parking (1.2 cars per bedroom) and should "come back with less."

The Planning Board also championed the Select Board's concern about future ownership, wishing to avoid what happened at Townhouse Apartments when the complex went condo.  The developer was amenable to a deed covenant preventing the units from being sold off piece by piece.

The Retreat will not be a "gated community" as the Planning Board was unanimous in rejecting the idea.  The board was also pleased to hear all units would have sprinklers, which are not required but were highly recommended by Amherst Fire Department Assistant Chief Don McKay.

The rejection of a reduction in lot widths from the current 100 feet will have the greatest impact on the overall design. Landmark Properties will return with a "Definitive Plan" that incorporates tonight's suggestions.

If the Planning Board does not approve it, the developer could file a regular subdivision plan that would give them the same number of lots (123) but spread out over the entire 146 acre parcel.

 Jon Williams, Athens GA, the face of Landmark Properties (center) flanked by attorneys Peter McConnell (left) Michael Pill (right)

Tried to live Tweet the meeting but hard to perform as a sardine

Ch 40 Reports on "tense meeting"


Anonymous said...

I have a family member that lives next to a former Landmark Retreat property and it is an absolute disaster. I say former because it was, like a number of them, sold shortly after it was completed. Its current owners continually fight noise complaints that are dismissed under the notion of it being private property. The parties that occur at the property are severely intense with non-residents of the property often leaving inebriated in droves, many behind the wheel. The on-site management has very little power to actually control the residents and eviction is a lengthy process. I truly hope Amherst realizes this is not a good solution for the town's housing issues, no matter how well Landmark sells it. I know personally.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah and if you can't trust an Anon as a source, who can you trust.

Walter Graff said...

Why not read the reviews of the other properties built by this group around the country. Like any review they get good and bad. Some love it and the living and some hate it.

North Amherst will now be able to find out too. Best of all everyone will survive.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry if I've offended you in any way Mr. Kelley. Your post came up during a search for "Landmark Retreat" and given what I've seen I only trying to share a bit of personal experience. -Anon 11:11 AM

Larry Kelley said...

No problem, I'm very hard to offend. Although some Anons try awful hard.

Anonymous said...

Does the Planning Board every say no to anything?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

By law it is not the job of the planning board to say no to developers. Their job is to assist developers in meeting the zoning and other by law requirements of the state and town. That said, they do not have to accede to requests by developers which are outside the level parameters. Thus, in this case, Landmark asked for a number of exemptions to the zoning by laws which the planning board did not grant, although some were granted.

It's also important to remember that this step is largely advisory, that is, the developer submitted "preliminary plans" which the planning board reviewed and commented on. In effect, saying to the developer, when you submit your final plans and site plan, if you ask for these exemptions we will say no, but we'll grant these others.

It's then up to the developer to come back with revised plans, totally new plans or withdraw the proposal. And, we haven't even yet had the formal review by the Conservation Commission with its public hearing. Many steps to go before this is a done deal either way. And don't forget about the Land Court suit.

Dr. Ed said...

I'm of two minds on the issue of the grade of the roads -- and what is the grade of Amity Street & Fearing Avenue -- I'd guess more than 10%....

On the one hand, if the private company is going to be responsible for keeping them open/passable in the winter -- and unlike the town, not protected by the State Tort Claims Act -- then it's their problem and let them have whatever pitch they want.

On the other hand, I've seen AFD's ladder truck get stuck in the parking lot of Lincoln Apartments because UMass didn't keep that road open -- and the ability of emergency vehicles to get into there (and back out) is a legitimate issue.

Which raises another one -- what mandate is there that the owner actually plow the roads and what happens if they don't? What if the company is going broke or something and simply doesn't do it? Is the town going to get stuck doing it?

Does the town do it and then assess the charge as a lien against the property -- and if so, how? Does the town leave the roads unplowed and then deal with the inability to get EMS vehicles in there -- with resultant loss of life (as happened in DC a couple years ago)?

And I don't think that "repair & deduct" would apply to plowing roads -- nor do I suspect that UM students could/would come up with the $200/hour that Karl's wants for each loader -- or even know who Karl is.

If it isn't already determined, I suggest that APD/AFD need a clear way to proceed if The Retreat doesn't plow/sand it's roads to the point where it is a public safety issue -- exactly what you gonna do if they (ever) just don't plow and you're looking at a 6 foot snowbank and unplowed roads beyond....

Anonymous said...

GO RETREAT, GO RETREAT, GO RETREAT. Amherst getting what it so richly deserves. All those nimbys who continually waste my time in Town Meeting have created this so I hope it happens regardless of the student behavior outcome.

Anon 11:11, nice try to spread fear, give it a rest, please.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for Henry street to soak in young blood rated <.08% alcohol.:)
The train tracks are a great place for collage drunks to hang out as well.