Atkins North, anchoring The Mill District to the east
Spouting the usual complaints the usual suspects showed up to the 11/19 Amherst Planning Board meeting to take on their usual target: developer Cinda Jones, President of the W.D. Cowls Company, the largest private landowner in the state of Massachusetts.
Fresh from their victory of helping torpedo The Retreat student housing project to the east of North Amherst center, costing the Cowls company over $6 million in lost revenues, this time they are waging guerrilla warfare against the other development on Cowls Road, The Mill District.
After years of concerted lobbying Ms. Jones managed, finally, to convince iconic 100 year old business Atkins Country Market in deep South Amherst to open a bookend operation, Atkins North. In a former 4,200 square foot cow barn no less, so you would think she gets extra PC points for recycling.
The barn sits at the outskirts of a sprawling 13 acre tract of commercial space that was once served a 14,400 square foot sawmill. Like everything else associated with W.D. Cowls, the sawmill was historic -- having been in operation for over 250 years.
134 Montague Road with paved driveway. Cow barn in red
The Planning Board is discussing Site Plan Review for the conversion of the cow barn to a new retail operation and the applicant is requesting allowances for live & pre-recorded music, seasonal outdoor dining, placement of a few signs identifying businesses in The Mill District and continued use of a paved driveway at 134 Montague Road for commercial deliveries.
Cow barn renovation will maintain many of the original overhead trusses
Cow barn renovation will maintain pointy overhang
Virtually all the speakers at the Planning Board public meeting (continued until December 17) spoke against continued use of the driveway for commercial deliveries to Atkins North, even though it has been used for commercial operation for the Cowls forest related empire for hundreds of years.
Since Atkins North will be more of a satellite operation the only delivery trucks coming and going will be service vans and small box trucks making "just in time deliveries" from the main operation in South Amherst. In other words, no big ol' 18-wheelers.
134 Montague Road (which is Rt 63) farmhouse near Summer St and Cowls Rd
Neighbors, worried about safety, noise, unsightliness and blah-blah-blah, want the delivery drivers to go 75 feet further down the road and access the site via Cowls Road. But anyone who knows truckers, knows they love shortcuts.
Cowls and Montague Road intersection 75 feet down from 134 Montague Rd farmhouseAnd anyone who knows business -- especially small business -- knows how important signage is to getting customers conveniently to your front door.
Ms. Jones describes the small signs requested for Montague Road (one saying "Deliveries only"at her driveway entrance and the others -- on both end of Cowls Road -- for identifying businesses in the Mill District) as being "Critical for the success of the businesses in the Trolley Barn", a mixed use building just down the road from Atkins North.
The Trolley Barn, 68 Cowls Road, an apple throw away from Atkins North
Having such an iconic high-profile business like Atkins being one of the first to come into a new development is a double edged saw: Should it fail, the message sent would be nothing short of catastrophic for the entire Mill District.
Amherst already has a well earned anti-business reputation.
Rather then rolling in stumbling boulders to appease squeaky wheel neighbors, town officials should be doing everything in their power to help ensure success.
These minor concessions requested for the Mill District, a commercial area that predates the founding of the town, are the very least they can do.
Well, besides shopping at Atkins after it opens.