Rolling Green Apartments, East Amherst
Disability Access Advisory Committee Chair Gerry Weiss summed up the public safety situation with two simple questions, one to his committee, "How safe would you feel if your main safety feature in a fire was an intercom?"; and then the 2nd directed to Dominic Marinelli, an accessibility consultant, "How far from a burning building would you like to be?"
Mr Marinelli consults for Beacon Industries who purchased Rolling Green Apartments last year for $30 million and was engaging in a conference call this morning with the committee.
Amherst contributed $1.25 million in Community Preservation Act money towards that purchase in order to keep all 204 units on the Subsidized Housing Inventory, even though only 41 of the units are actually (slightly) below market rate.
At the time Amherst had an SHI of 10.8% so the loss of Rolling Green would have put us well under the 10% threshold, and then subject to a Ch40B development.
But now Beacon Industries wishes to do major renovations at the property costing 30% of assessed value, thus Americans with Disability Act standards kick in. They were already turned down for a variance by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board and are currently trying to get the blessing of the Disability Access Committee for a second attempt.
Since Rolling Green does not have any 3 or 4 bedroom units on single floor flat ground (all of them are townhouses) the committee had no major concerns about keeping the accessible units to 1 and 2 bedroom.
The major, major concern was a viable second means of egress from those units, and that's where the sparks started to fly.
The 2nd means of egress was not fully handicapped accessible but would -- stated Mr. Marinelli enthusiastically -- bring the tenant to a "landing" just outside the building as an "area of refuge". The tenant could then use the intercom to contact help.
DAAC Chair Gerry Weiss (top center) Senior Planner Nate Malloy (bottom right)
But when asked by town planner Nate Molloy how big was that landing, the response drew disbelief: 30" by 48". NEXT TO A BURNING BUILDING.
Marinelli instantly said, "I can try to get whatever size you want. How big do you want it?"
That's when Mr. Weiss asked him "How far from a burning building would you like to be?". And a few other members murmured, "In a wheelchair!"
The Disability Access Advisory Committee decided they would contact AFD Chief Tim Nelson for his recommendations and talk with Mr Marinelli again at their next meeting.
Rolling Green Apartments 1/23/13 (photo: Steven O'Toole)