Amherst officials seeking consultants to help evaluate the Retreat student housing development plans

Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014
AMHERST — A private consultant to assist the Planning Board in reviewing plans for the Retreat student housing development could be selected Wednesday.

The Planning Board will meet then to consider a recommendation for hiring a company to provide expertise in evaluating the definitive subdivision plans for the project that proposes construction of 123 units containing 641 beds on 147 acres in the Cushman section of Amherst.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Town Room at Town Hall.

Senior Planner Christine Brestrup said Tuesday that three consultants who responded to a call for proposals are being evaluated by a group that includes Planning Department staff and two board members. The candidates will be ranked based on a series of criteria, including their experience.

After that is done, the town’s accounting department will open the price proposal from the recommended consultant. Brestrup said the cost is not expected to be an issue, as Landmark Properties Inc., the Athens, Georgia, company planning the Retreat, will pay the bill.

Once a consultant is selected, money from Landmark will be placed in escrow and then the town and consultant can sign a contract, Brestrup said.

While the Conservation Commission is also seeking a consultant to assist in analyzing the wetlands on the site and other environmental issues that will arise through a notice of intent filing, it received no responses to its request for proposal, said Wetlands Administrator Elizabeth Willson.

Willson said the next step will be reissuing the request.

“We’ve reached out to a number of companies to get their opinions on the RFP and are pretty confident someone will respond to our second attempt,” Willson said.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said it is possible that the consultant chosen to assist the Planning Board could also help the Conservation Commission.

Brestrup said the Planning Board expects to begin public hearings on the Retreat project in late July. The town has put information about the project on its website including the proposed build-out of the site, the roads, storm-water management plans and traffic studies.

“People have a lot of material to look at,” Brestrup added, and the Planning Department is already getting written comments.

The Select Board this week was asked, for the second time, to get an opinion from town counsel about whether such a project can be constructed in what is zoned as outlying residential land.

Jack Hirsch, president of Save Historic Cushman, observed Monday that this information could save the town money.

“We should learn now that this proposal is not valid, rather than going through additional hearings and a definitive site plan review,” Hirsch said.

Because Hirsch made his appeal during the public comment portion of the Select Board meeting, members could take no action on the request.