Showing posts with label North Amherst. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Amherst. Show all posts

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tomorrow, & Tomorrow, & Tomorrow

Former industrial site near North Amherst center
Proposed transformation

On Thursday February 2nd the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals will convene for the 6th and hopefully final time to support the Comprehensive Permit for Beacon Communities North Square mixed use development at the Mill District in North Amherst.

Yes, academic Amherst once had industry.  Old timers refer to that area of town as "the dirty hands district" because of those long gone industries.  Today industrial land makes up less than 1% of the town tax base.

The Beacon proposal will revive that former industrial site, which currently pays the towns less than $10,000 in property taxes, in a way that will stimulate all of North Amherst via the tenants and businesses it attracts while enhancing our town coffers with over $500,000 in annual property taxes.

In order to offset the losses they will incur from having 26 subsidized housing units in the 130 unit proposal, Beacon will be seeking a temporary ten year property tax break on those units, legislation that was championed by late Town Manager John Musante.

The state requires a town to contribute financially to a Comprehensive Permit project anyway and this method is far less painful since it does not take any money out of the treasury and simply forgoes collecting money over a ten year period.

But how much exactly?

When Beacon Communities came into town four years ago and saved our bacon by buying Rolling Green to keep all 204 units on the Subsidized Housing Index, the town contributed $1.25 million up front.

Forever activist Vince O'Connor, a North Amherst resident, was circulating a sheet at the recent ZBA meeting showing the total tax breaks Beacon is seeking over ten years coming to almost $5 million.

Vince O'Connor low tech tax guestimate

But the spreadsheet presented to the Select Board on January 23rd concludes it will be far less than that (although it is a tad complicated):

Click to enlarge/read

According to Mollye Lockwood,  Cowls VP of Real Estate and Community Development:

It is a reasonable request for the town to contribute about $2 million in
tax relief (that is the approximate amount for the total 10 year period
and what I believe Vince was trying to calculate) to have not only the 26
affordable units but all of the other benefits related to economic
development, village center revitalization, smart growth, etc. (The town,
or anyone else, could not build 26 affordable units deed restricted into
perpetuity for very-low and extremely-low income households for $2
This is a great value for the community and the opportunity cost
that will be lost by not doing it would cost the town exponentially more
in the long run.

Amherst continuously pays lip service to the idea of subsidized housing.  Now it's time for town officials to put their money where their mouth is. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

They're Ba-Ack

Townehouse Apartment east quad Saturday 4:30 PM

Townehouse Apartments east quad Sunday 6:30 AM

Townehouse apartments west quad Sunday 4:30 PM 

Townehouse apartments west quad Monday morning 6:30 AM
 click photo to enlarge

Now this is how you're supposed to party:  UMass Welcome Back BBQ (Monday 4-7 PM):


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Drawing Fire

Sawmill will be demolished to make way for project

It didn't take long for NIMBYs to voice their public comment about Beacon Communities proposed 130 unit development in North Amherst and as usual complaints included traffic, noise, and the fear of more college aged youth moving to their neighborhood.

 NIMBYs invaded 8/29 Select Board meeting

The main suggestion was to downsize considerably the number of housing units by as much as 50%. Since the project includes a significant affordable housing component it has to be a sizable number of total units to make up for the low cost ones.

And since Amherst has an across the board housing shortage, any increase is a good thing. Beacon is using a "friendly 40B" approach to get needed concessions on height, set back and lot coverage in order to make the project work.

If the state grants them clearance they must still get approval from our Zoning Board of Appeals but unlike a normal hearing where a Special Permit requires a unanimous vote this would only require a two-thirds vote.

Yesterday the town filed a MassWorks grant proposal for $1 million to redo the funky North Amherst main intersection of Montague & Sunderland Roads with Meadow Street, North Pleasant and Pine Streets.

Sunderland and Montague Road branch off after intersection of Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant

And the state does heavily weigh future economic development before issuing the grants.

Neighbors are concerned that the town has formed an unholy alliance with Beacon and Cowls (the landowner) in order to acquire the grant and that will unduly influence the ZBA.

 Click to enlarge/read

A few years ago these same NIMBYs successfully shot down zoning changes that would have led to more development in North Amherst and as a result the state twice turned down our $4 million MassWorks grant to rehab Pine Street.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Beacon Of Hope

Mill District:  Beacon project sited between Atkins and Cowles Building Supply

Beacon Communities, a top tier public housing developer, will go before our illustrious Select Board on Monday night to present preliminary plans for their badly needed mixed-use development that would continue the revitalization of North Amherst.

The Mill District has already made the historic but often neglected area a destination spot with the opening of Atkins North and the Trolley Barn.

This proposed development would add a key ingredient to the mix:  tenants who live within walking distance of all the amenities the area has to offer.

And with 20% of the units set aside as "affordable housing" the project would help bridge a Grand Canyon sized gap in our residential demographics.

Beacon purchased Rolling Green for $30.25 million ($1.25 million of town CPA $) thus keeping it on our Subsidized Housing Inventory

Monday, May 16, 2016

When NIMBYs Attack

Proposed mixed use development would replace closed saw mill (top center)

In Amherst no building project bigger than a dog house is safe from coordinated attack by concerned neighbors worried about the destruction of their neighborhood, even though some of them have not been living there long enough to really know the neighborhood.

In South Amherst, Butternut Farm, a "friendly 40B" 26-unit initiative, was bitterly opposed by neighbors, including a failed lawsuit that only served to delay the project an extra half-dozen years and increase costs to the non-profit developer, HAPHousing.

 Clark House, 100 subsidized units.  About to be sold to a "qualified Preservation buyer"

And the Clark House, the first six story building in town center,  was also fought over almost 40 years ago and would never have happened if not the for Amherst Redevelopment Authority, a quasi state agency with the power of eminent domain.

So I'm hardly shocked the usual suspects in North Amherst are now sharpening their pitchforks and fueling up the turbo charged torches to oppose the badly needed subsidized housing mixed-use proposal to help complete the Mill District vision.

Beacon purchased Rolling Green for $30.25 million ($1.25 million of town CPA $)

Ironically if not for Beacon Communities purchasing the 204 unit Rolling Green Apartments in East Amherst our Subsidized Housing Inventory would have fallen below 10%, so a Chapter 40B in the Mill District -- build whatever you want as long as it's 25% affordable housing -- would now be a slam dunk.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Townehouse Transformation

Townehouse west quad 2:30 PM Satruday

The final glorious spring weekend before UMass finals went well, with fewer large gatherings compared to last week where the Mill River Recreation area was trashed and the usual spots -- Hobart Lane and Townehouse Apartments -- swelled with college aged youth like an old fashioned beach party.

 Townehouse west quad 4:45 PM

Only Townehouse Apartments quad area grew large and loud on Saturday with a peak crowd of perhaps 1,500, a little less than last week.

A handful of Amherst police stood by most of the day to observe and interact with students coming and going but pretty much allowed the students to have fun.

UMass Community Liaison Eric Beal and APD's Neighborhood Liaison Officer Bill Laramee has spent plenty of time during the week interacting with students at the usual hot spots.

Townehouse west quad 6:30 PM

At one point late in the day a Townehouse security guard reported a bottle was thrown at him by someone who disappeared back into the crowd, but fortunately the incident did not escalate.

And, unlike last week, nobody set any furniture on fire in the middle of the quad.

 Townehouse west quad Sunday morning 7:00 AM

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mill District May E-X-P-A-N-D

(red) Trolley Barn left, Atkins North top center Cowls Building Supply foreground

Atkins North and the Trolley Barn could get some company in the near future in that large lot on the south side of Cowls Road behind Cowls Building Supply, currently home to the saw mill that closed in 2009.

Beacon Communities, who purchased Rolling Green Apartments with $1.25 million in town assistance in order to keep it on our Subsidized Housing Inventory, is considering a mixed use, mixed income rental development with commercial space on the ground floor.

Beacon would manage the residential component and W.D. Cowls would maintain control of the commercial space.

The town's Master Plan calls for development exactly like this in Village Centers and the last two housing studies done for the town indicate an across the board shortage of housing -- especially affordable housing.

Since Atkins North opening last year the Mill District has already established itself as a destination spot.

Ye old saw mill will be demolished

The infusion of more potential customers within walking distance of the current amenities can only add to the vibrancy of North Amherst.

Beacon Communities is still in the planning stages and will no doubt do community outreach before any shovels hit the dirt.

Mill District is within easy walking distance of North Amherst center

Friday, March 18, 2016

Medical Marijuana Trifecta?

Auction Barn in North Amherst possible home to medical marijuana dispensary

The Select Board on Monday night will be asked yet again for a "letter of support or non opposition" to a medical marijuana dispensary located at 169 Meadow Street in deep North Amherst, almost to the Sunderland line.

Although ever optimistic attorney Tom Reidy succinctly requests a Letter of Support, which the Select Board has opted to do for the previous two petitioners.  

The building is the former home of Kimball's Auction Barn who recently moved to Rt 9 Hadley after the 47 acre property was sold by W.D. Cowls to farmer Joe Czajikowski earlier this month.

Since there is not a state regulation concerning the number of dispensaries in a city or town theoretically all three could get state approval, although highly unlikely.

But who knows, if the ballot question legalizing recreational pot gets approved this coming November, we could probably provide more than enough business for three dispensaries.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

When a "D" Is A Good Thing

North Amherst center today shows recent improvements via paving and new striping 

Click photos to enlarge
Concept D

So after two open public forums and many individual board and committee meetings it looks like Concept D is going to be the choice for significant renovations to North Amherst Village Center.

At Tuesday's second forum sponsored by the Select Board, Planning Board and Public Works Committee, attended by perhaps 45 citizens, Concept D was once again was the clear favorite of the four presented.

Good crowd at Bangs Center for the 2nd public forum on Tuesday night

Now the significant problem is going to be how to fund it?

I'm told just the basic construction aspect is at least $1 million and the combined value of the two properties that would need to be purchased are another $1 million.  So a million here and a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Reverting Sunderland Road back to greenspace ties in Library to School and playing field

The town was shot down for a MassWorks grant recently for this North Amherst intersection, and a couple years ago was also turned down for a $4 million grant to redo Pine Street, which the town just now completed on its own dime (or I should say local taxpayers dimes).

Maybe if we showed a little more support at the ballot box for a Republican Governor, those grants would start rolling in.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Intersection Of Alternatives

Intersection of Sunderland and Montague Roads just before North Amherst Library

Option D

So it looks like Option D will be the chosen one out of four possible proposals for the funky intersection of Sunderland and Montague Roads less than a field goal kick from the intersection of Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant Streets in the heart of North Amherst center.

Last night the Public Works Committee joined the Planning Board and Transportation Task Force in signaling their "preponderance of approval" for Option D, which terminates the final length of Sunderland Road running past the North Amherst Library and turns it into green space contiguous with the town owned playing field.

Montague Road, which is a state road, and Sunderland Road will both remain two way and the intersection behind the library may get a traffic signal or could simply become a four way stop. 

The three influential committees did not take a formal vote as they all wish to wait for more public input at the December 8th public hearing which is a follow up to the June 24th well attended hearing.

DPW Chief Guilford Mooring also told the Public Works Committee last night the $500,000 renovation of the traffic control signals at Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant was turned down by the state for a MassWorks grant so they are coming up with a make due method costing around $200,000 which could happen next year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Get Your Goat


It's not all necessarily bad stuff Amherst police have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Although it does provide for comic relief, the freedom loving herd of goats out on Sunderland Road in North Amherst do tend to pull a Houdini a tad too often.  Like around noon today for instance:

 Police officer and farmer chase the goats back home

And since they always seem to  head for the green pasture adjacent to busy Rt 116, it will be a sad day in Amherst should they ever get hit by a car.

Aerial drone video of our freedom loving goats

Meanwhile Hadley police late this afternoon managed to capture and return an escaped horse to his barn after a scary run down Middle Street (Rt 47) headed towards ultra busy Rt 9.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Renewing North Amherst

Pine Street yesterday looking east
Pine Street looking west

With the road rebuilding at Cowls Road and Pine Street all but done, the town will turn its attention to the somewhat trickier task of reworking the main North Amherst intersection of five roads within the blast range of a hand grenade:  North Pleasant, Meadow, Pine, Sunderland Road and Montague Road.
Click to enlarge photos
North Amherst center.  Upper Y intersect of Sunderland & Montague Roads main concern

The Planning Board, Select Board (who has the ultimate authority), and Public Works Committee will host a public forum at the Bangs Community Center on December 8th to discuss the redesign of the Montague and Sunderland Roads intersection.

Even my drone was confused

 Cowls Road connects Montague and Sunderland Roads up from the funky intersection
W.D. Cowls will install sidewalk on their property to complete connection to Montague Road
The Sidewalk ended up on the south side of Cowls Road on W.D. Cowls private property to protect the two stately Norway Spruce trees at 150 Montague Road

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pine Street Speeding To Finish (Finally)

Pine Street is east/west connector to North Amherst center and Cushman Village

Thanksgiving will be especially thankful this year for those of you who live in North Amherst and the many of you who travel through there routinely:  Pine Street, the expensive forever project, may now be completed this year rather than next spring. 

Pedestrian crosswalk with lights may be completed this year

The sidewalk and crosswalk contiguous with Simple Gifts Farms and pretty much dead center in the busy roadway was going to be delayed due to crops in the field. 

But this week the project rolled ahead and DPW Chief Guilford Mooring reports, "a rush of activity to be done with Pine Street so the sidewalk at the farm will probably be paved next week, as long as the rain holds off."

Click to enlarge photos
Sidewalk switches sides due to utility poles in the way (too expensive to move)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wait Until Next Year

Simple Gifts Farm, aka North Amherst Community Farm.  Pine Street on right

What some neighbors have dubbed "The Forever Project" -- the Pine Street renovation -- a major east/west thoroughfare just north of UMass, our #1 employer, continues to live up to the name.

The $4 million project will not be totally completed by Thanksgiving the drop dead date for construction projects because asphalt plants close for the season.

Since tax money (both Agricultural Preservation Restriction and Community Preservation Act) assisted in purchasing/preserving the North Amherst Community Farm it took a little longer to get permission to intrude on their land for the sidewalk and crosswalk construction.

By the time permission was obtained the squash had already been planted so now the construction project will have to wait until next year.  Don't want to mess with a farmer's squash crop.

The road itself, however, will be completed by first snowfall.

Another project that is starting to join the realm of forever projects is the intersection of Triangle/East Pleasant at the up and coming north end of downtown.

Guilford Mooring out of the hot seat at last night's PWC meeting

Last night the Public Works Committee discussed the item (along with a bevy of concerned neighbors) for the 8th time over the past 1.5 years.

Intersection of Triangle and East Pleasant Streets will go the way of roundabout

The Committee continues to wholeheartedly support the idea of a roundabout but have not yet seen a detailed enough plan to vote on it.  Neighbors have continually expressed concern about pedestrian/bicycle safety and the town losing its "small town character" via a roundabout.

The Public Works Committee will, probably, vote in favor of the project at their next meeting in November.  The PWC is only an advisory committee appointed by the Select Board, who has final say over "the public way."

Click to enlarge/read
 7/10/14 vote was taken before the town acquired $1.5 million state grant for construction work near the intersection