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Amherst streetscape to change when church project begins

One of the trees is already scheduled to be removed, and the second is likely to be affected by the construction work at the 121 North Pleasant St. site. The Public Shade Tree Committee plans to discuss the project Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the First Floor Meeting Room at Town Hall.

Committee Chairwoman Hope Crolius said she is worried about losing public shade trees in downtown that are not ill or posing hazards.

“There is no reason to not use human ingenuity to create a design that seeks to preserve a perfectly healthy pin oak tree,” Crolius said.

The project was examined and recommended by the Design Review Board this week, and previously has been reviewed by the Historical Commission.

The Unitarian church will be enlarged with a two-story addition onto the parking lot at the rear of the one-third acre lot. The addition will contain classrooms, office space and a social room, with a new entrance opening onto a renovated plaza adjacent to the 103 Shops building on North Pleasant Street. New trees will be planted on the plaza and benches will be installed.

Peter Wells, a consultant with the Berkshire Design Group, said four public shade trees on site will be removed, the others being two smaller locust trees.

“All in all, it’s an exciting project, a tight site, but the design fits contextually into the downtown Amherst scheme of things,” Wells said.

Michael Hanke, a member of the Design Review Board, said he is concerned about plans to remove the large pin oaks.

“The trees create an historic landscape that’s unparalleled in Amherst,” Hanke said.

Tree Warden Alan Snow said the tree closest to the entrance of the parking lot, exhibiting signs of poor health, is one of three large trees along Kellogg Avenue already scheduled to come down. But he said no one from the church has scheduled a tree hearing for the possible removal of the second pin oak.

Snow agreed that Kellogg offers one of the more unique streetscapes in downtown, along with Gaylord Street and Sunset Avenue, where large oaks also exist. “They’ve managed to survive a steady progression of development and new technology,” he said.

But when trees get this big in an urban environment, they can begin to fail, he said.

“It’s a beautiful street, but trees pose challenges when they get that large,” Snow said.

During the October 2011 snowstorm, a large tree fell and was uprooted in front of Ann Whalen Apartments, and last year two homes on Kellogg sustained damage when limbs and leaders fell from the trees.

Branches from pin oaks have come down onto the roof of the church, causing minimal damage. Their roots have also left the public sidewalk along Kellogg inaccessible for handicapped people.

The construction will have an impact on the 15-space parking lot the church has leased to the town. Only five of the spaces are expected to remain at the lot that is used primarily by patrons to nearby businesses, including Rao’s, Panda East and Captain Candy.

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