Saturday, November 29, 2014

Noise & Traffic & Safety! Oh My!

 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 farmhouse

And 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.


Anonymous said...

Hey Larry,

Just let them do a quick traffic study. I agree that these small vans (and even the occasional bigger truck) won't have a significant impact here, and the study should confirm that, mooting the issue.

More important would be for Cinda (and her commercial tenants) to insist that delivery vehicles don't idle while parked there. It's like the second-hand smoking issue (and against the law, but hard to enforce). That would go a long way to built positive karma (or truckma or vanma, perhaps) with the friendly neighbors up here in N. Amherst.

Good luck to Cinda and Pauline - I really hope Atkins North is a big success! I'll be helping, heading there often (on my bike) for the delicious cider donuts, but without the sprinkled sugar, please! (I confess to a 2-pack-a-day habit, but - lucky for my arteries - that day happens only once or twice a month; and, hey, there's no second-hand-donut-crumbs, 'cause I eat those up too! ;-) Last Tuesday eve, Atkins (south) was hoppin': their lot was packed with cars, and folks inside were packin' pies by the boxful - just gotta hook those undergrads on pies and donuts instead of beer - make the legal age for eating donuts 21?! ;-)

But more seriously: if you think about it, it's a poor use of resources for folks up north to be driving all the way south to pick up a pie or a bag of groceries; a few daily trips with one van can keep the northern stocked "just in time" (using good inventory software) for hundreds of folks' daily grocery needs; and some fresh produce can be sourced from North Amherst and Hadley farmers, saving even more transport resources. The resulting fuel savings (assuming most folks would otherwise be driving and can now just walk or bike to Atkins North) is hundreds of gallons daily.

If this works out, I'd happily nominate Cinda and Pauline for environmental (and even Bike-Advocate-of-the-Year) awards!

- YF

Anonymous said...

At the Planning Board hearing, it seemed liked there was an acceptable solution off Cowl's Rd. for deliveries, separate from the costumer access area, which seemed like a win, win, win for owner, consumers and Montague Rd.neighbors alike. Why wouldn't that be the position to advocate for?

Anonymous said...

Why not accomodate the rural neighborhood right next to this village center? Try to keep disruption to a mininum and drive the extra 75 feet?

Larry Kelley said...

Because it's really not all that much of a "disruption."

Anonymous said...

Then why not ask the vans to enter from the Sunderland Road side?

Larry Kelley said...

Because they want to keep deliveries separate from customers.

It's a Walt Disney thing.

Anonymous said...

US Highway Route 63 with thousands of vehicles and trucks a day, located next to the Mill River Recreation Area used by thousands is absolutely NOT a rural neighborhood by any standard.