Monday, September 8, 2014

The Retreat Surrenders

 And so they did

The Retreat, a controversial student housing development proposed for the 147 acre woodlands of northeast Amherst, is no more -- killed by protracted battles with organized neighborhood resistance and quite simply the high per unit cost of development.

Letter hand delivered to Town Clerk on Friday from Landmark Properties

The Planning Board did not seem overly enthusiastic about granting all the variances required as part of the Definitive Subdivision Plan for 123 lots, which would have housed 641 tenants -- all of them UMass students.

UMass is the #1 employer in town and #2 property owner but because they are an educational institute pay no property taxes. The town assessor had projected the private development would have paid almost $400,000 in property taxes annually if built. 

Landmark Properties had a Purchase & Sale agreement with W.D. Cowls for $6.5 million, but only put down $50,000 which is non refundable.  In addition they have done upwards of $1 million in due diligence site work leading up to the Planning Board hearings.  

Cinda Jones will now pursue other development opportunities with the improved property.


Anonymous said...

Amherst Woods north.

Anonymous said...

NIMBY's ruin everything. I'll remember to thank them the next time my taxes go UP!

Anonymous said...

The wrong project in the wrong place

Larry Kelley said...

For some folks there will never be a right project in the right place (as long as that place is next to them).

Anonymous said...

It wasn't the NIMBYS that killed the retreat, it was the truck that left tire tracks on the dirt road. The area is forever ruined. Like Chernobyl, it will be sealed off for centuries with the hope that the horrible and vile tire tracks will eventually fade away. Such an incredible loss.

Fear not, UMASS has a major secret plan in the works on-campus.

Larry Kelley said...

I think the Conservation Commission made them fix that.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused because Graff said that the Retreat was definitely going to happen and we should just get used to it.

Anonymous said...

Despite those regressive NIMBYs winning again, there is at least one positive outcome here: those eyesores of lawn signs will finally disappear now…

DaveMB said...

I think the press release from Cowls has a mistaken date, as it seems to be from today rather than a month ago.

It looks to me like the system worked. With scrutiny from the Save Historic Cushman people and their impressive consultant, the town government gave the Landmark people an idea of what they would have to do to comply with our standards, and they ran away screaming.

You might wonder how they could be dumb enough to pour $1M of preliminary work into a project that was not going to work. It's not unprecedented at all -- just a couple years ago Grand Canyon University got the then-less-infamous Hobby Lobby to gift them with the former Northfield campus of Northfield Mount Hermon. They came up with an insane plan to build dorms for 6000 students, presented it to the town, heard what would they would have to do to comply with the standards, and ran away screaming.

Perhaps real estate development in New England is just that much different from that in the rest of the country? In most places if you want to build something near X, you can find land near X with nothing currently on it and few legal restrictions on what you can build. I'm glad that's not true here.

There are sensible people planning development in Amherst. The press release suggests that Cinda Jones wants to work with them. Landmark were not among them at all.

Anonymous said...

umm how many people in North Amherst are about to pull there houses off the market?

Anonymous said...

"Amherst Woods North (though it's the lowest income per capita area of town), NIMBY, some folks"…
Is that really the best you can do?
God forbid it should be about what's right (makes might) or even that people believed strongly enough about something to work hard, spend there own money and work together (instead of just slamming on a blog).
Actually, I think that's called democracy.
I gotta laugh that some here think a few 'miscreants' could actually chase off the deep pockets of Landmark.
Larry, what was that you often say about sunshine?

Anonymous said...

Not an immediate neighbor said:

Smart take on things, Dave MB. I am thankful that the Retreat retreated because it was totally incompatible with the objectives of our Master Plan. I was impressed with Cinda's resubmittal offer of the property and hope one of these ideas comes to fruition. I also hope that those wanting to see sensible development opportunities come to pass in Amherst, including those that are frequent commenters on this blog, become willing to step up into the kind of leadership positions in town that can make that happen; most notably by serving on Town Meeting.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said at 6:14pm…
Now who is being elitist?
One man's yard symbol is another man's flag….right Larry?
So, should we again worry about a certain young man wanting to go around torching signs (hmmm…now there's progressive) that will now read WE stoppED the retreat.
As MY Irish mother would have said, "Fair play ta ya".

Anonymous said...

Don't tell me it was "the wrong project in the wrong place"....There has not been a right project and a right place in any proposal of this type for decades.

Some of us didn't just crawl out from under a rock yesterday. We are keeping track. We instead see this latest project and now its withdrawal in some historical context, a series of resistance movements, sometimes facilitated by Select Boards and sometimes not.

The Retreat was defeated by, whether right or wrong in this instance, a growing but homogeneous coalition of relatively wealthy people, a mutual aid society that spreads across the town and will mobilize to lay down in front of bulldozers EVERYWHERE in town. Rest assured, it will happen again, and the same tired "wrong project, wrong place" formulation will be trotted out again.

The result over time is a steadily gentrifying Amherst that increasingly shuts out poor people, working class folks, and young families: a gated community without gates.....and a Darwinian process of social selection that weeds out those who can't afford to outbid rental slum lords, or the property tax burden that goes up each year.

Dr. Ed said...

I wonder if Landmark did some marketing research and discovered that there isn't going to be a sufficient number of students at UMass (in the near future) for them to be sure of a return on their investment.

I also wonder what "concessions" they wanted from Cowls that Cindia felt weren't in the company's best interest.

Anonymous said...

"The result over time is a steadily gentrifying Amherst that increasingly shuts out poor people, working class folks, and young families: a gated community without gates"

Really? And The Retreat was going to serve poor people, working class folks, and young families?

Let's deal with facts not fantasy. Amherst is not a gated community. Last I looked (today) the lowest priced home for sale in the area that is in the Amherst school district is only asking $104,900. With a first-time home buyer mortgage (the type a young family would get) that's only around $3,600 for the down payment.

Sarena said...

Every time I drove down the curvy Henry street/North East Street, I would shudder at the thought of drunk Retreat students driving on a road at night that can be challenging for even the sober at daytime. For this reason alone, the area is not appropriate for high density development. If you disagree, you just don't use that road much.

Anonymous said...

I think it’s a great miss-understanding to suggest that the neighborhood collision stopped the Retreat. Landmark has met this type of opposition in every project they have built. What stopped the Retreat was the increasingly higher and higher cost of construction. The planning board held strong on Landmarks requests and this land has many challenges which have driven the costs past the profit point. The only thing that most people in town government are surprised by is how long it took Landmark to realize it.

Anonymous said...

if only the people of Amherst realized they look like a bunch of hypocritical, liberal, do gooder snobs. They all want clean energy, fewer cars on the road, organic food, and end to racism, etc.

They crushed a huge solar project, (now Hadley has one), have schools rife with racism, refuse any development near the university to limit people driving in, and the list goes on.

I really hope that someday a developer swoops in and puts in a sky-rise of ugliness with the appropriate amount of affordable housing to bypass the hypocrisy and self righteous bull*@#* of the people of Amherst.

Get over yourselves, you and your ideas are not that special.

Anonymous said...

"They crushed a huge solar project.."

Huh? Isn't the landfill solar project going forward?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:11PM: Hear, hear! Nail, meet hammer.

It’s about time for this homogenous coalition of obstinate objectors to confront reality: the only ‘right’ projects they would like to see developed are those that cater to people much like themselves—because those are the ones that aren’t going to cause a ruckus on the weekends or at night.

But guess what? We can’t all be old, white, wealthy upper-middle class homeowners—and there’s plenty of housing available to them already. Your grad students, teachers, young entrepreneurs, police officers and other public servants would like to be able to live here too. And while the Retreat might not have accommodated those people, its tax revenue would have enabled the town to encourage development elsewhere, or provide affordable housing for this non-student demographic. It could have been a two-edged sword.

Why is it *so* hard for these peace-preaching, regressive anti-development folks to get their collective heads out of their behinds and understand that there’s a middle ground to be filled—the middle ground between renting a run down place from an Amherst slumlord, and buying a house in Amherst (which, if you don’t want to have to do expensive renovations, will run you upwards of $150k)? That middle ground can either be catered to directly, or can be funded indirectly by projects that, in the anti-developent folks' eyes, are “wrong” (for them). Either way, it’s time to give up waiting for the one-size fits all unicorn development that will please everyone. It doesn’t exist, it can’t be done. Stifling progress by waiting for such a development is not the answer and will cause a lot more damage in the end—and not just to that precious salamander.

(I’m already holding my breath for the what will no doubt be a lively debate on the redevelopment of the Carriage Shops property.)

Anonymous said...

Now UMass will finally have to step up to the plate and house their adolescents on the hundreds of undeveloped acres on-campus, where they belong instead of fobbing them off on the town.

Rene said...

Unfortunately, most of the posters to this blog entry (and others in the past) haven't been paying attention and didn't do their homework as to why Landmark conceded defeat.

@Anon 9:54 AM: Who do you think brought it to the Planning Board attention that Landmark's plan was unworkable? The Cushman residents that's who. Who do you think unearthed all the evidence that the plan violated so many of our building regulations? The Cushman residents that's who. Who do you think spent countless hours researching, studying and learning the ins and outs of the Landmark proposal? The Cushman residents that's who. And, who do you think found and donated the money to bring in a top notch site development consultant to do a peer review of the Landmark plan at no expense to the town. The Cushman residents that's who. You can disagree with the results, but there's no way you can say the Cushman residents had no impact. In fact, if you'd bothered to do a little research about Landmark development efforts around the country, you'd have found that citizen coalitions such as Save Historic Cushman have also defeated Landmark elsewhere.

Various posters since this began almost two years ago have tried again and again to label this citizen effort as nimbyism as though just saying it makes it true. What they seemed not to have noticed is that many people from all over Amherst supported us and gave money because they realized that this proposal was bad for ALL of Amherst.

Others castigate us for being well organized as though its somehow wrong to be a well organized force to fight for what you believe in. As the saying goes, "This is what democracy looks like."

@anon 11:11 PM: Perhaps instead, there is a growing body of Amherst citizens from all walks of life and income levels who have an interest in where they live, have put down roots here or would like to, care about the town and its future and want it to grow in a way that benefits the majority of people, not just a few developers. You're right in the sense that the above group of people (and more as time goes on) will continue to oppose stupid, greed driven, harmful projects such as the "Retreat." The fact is some projects, perhaps many proposed in this town, have been just that: stupid, greed driven, and harmful projects.

Let me be clear, I'm not opposed to development, just stupid development that does not meet the needs of the town and its residents. You say you want an example of good development? OK, let's all work together to build much needed low-income and affordable housing so that we do have an income diverse population. Let's put our efforts together to pressure the University and the state legislature to build public/private partnerships on University land that generates tax money to help the town and sites the students in an appropriate ;ocation that reieves pressure on residential areas. (FYI, the supposed $400,000 in taxes to be generated by the Retreat was never going to happen: just go on line and check out how Landmark didn't come through in other communities).

Finally, if you really want to know why Landmark's plan was so bad, then look through the peer review on the town website under the planning board: Landmark withdrew their plan once they realized that it was out in the open that it was a pile of crap and would never pass the Planning Board.

Dr. Ed said...

Now UMass will finally have to step up to the plate and house their adolescents on the hundreds of undeveloped acres on-campus

One word: Wetlands.

Seems that they passed some rather pesky laws about building on wetlands and then the state was kind enough to put the 116 bypass in which -- like a heavy object on a sponge -- created new wetlands which then also became unbuildable.

Ever wonder why T-6 (Washington) is off center (3 or 6 degrees, I forget which) and leaning towards the river? The Connecticut River is a bigger fault line than the San Andreas, it just happens to have water on top of it -- and the western footings of T-6 never found bedrock.

I've heard lots of proposals to develop the northwest corner of campus -- byeNow UMass will finally have to step up to the plate and house their adolescents on the hundreds of undeveloped acres on-campus -- made by people who don't quite understand how much swamps are protected today.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Cinda still believes that the Retreat would have impacted Amherst positively, or for that matter if she ever really did.

Lotta land and future development in the hands of one of one lady who didn't earn it in the first place.

Dr. Ed said...

Lotta land and future development in the hands of one of one lady who didn't earn it in the first place.

Larger issue is that a LOT of people did quite well nearly a half century ago when the Commonwealth decided to expand a sleepy ag school into the 5th largest residential college in the country.

Property values soared and the people who benefited from that "didn't earn it" either. They just were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Times have changed, this isn't the 1970's anymore, and when (not if) the parents of the Commonwealth (and the Commonwealth itself) look to other, less expensive, means of educating their children, there are going to be some folks who no longer have the value that wasn't earned in the first place.

Other than a source of crushed stone (which, Cindia, is what you really ought to consider doing), that land is only valuable because of its proximity to a large state institution that the state could close as quickly as it closed other institutions in Northampton and Belchertown.

Dr. Ed said...

I wonder if the "Historic" Cushman neighborhood would have felt differently had it been Dr. Ed and not Cinda involved here.

My response at this point would be to use the land for a recognized activity that I don't think the town could prohibit: a stone quarry.

Yep, I'd remove the trees & overburden, blast the ledge, and either truck it (through downtown) to the Lane plant or install my own stone crushing equipment on site.

I'd level it -- going way beyond what Landmark proposed doing.

Noisy, dusty, and lots of traffic. Just what the NIMBYs deserve, and I'd run the quarry just for expenses -- not only out of spite, but knowing that I'd have a more marketable parcel once the ledge was gone...

Tom McBride said...

Good, I hope students rent space on either side of the home of Jack Hirsch. And his property taxes and home value is increased so much he has to move.

Anonymous said...

Good for the Cushman residents, for standing for themselves. I wouldn't want noisy college students in my neighborhood either. Besides, didn't UMass now open up the Lincoln Apartments for undergraduate and graduate students?