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Jacob Hirsch: Proposed Amherst development needs close look

To the editor:

Another proposal for constructing a large development, this time in North Amherst has arisen. Called The Retreat, it is described by the development company vice-president as “a mix of 2, 3, and 4-bedroom homes on a wood-lined street” and as “low-density, cottage-style housing.”

Approximately 170 cottages with two, three and four bedrooms could easily add 500 or 600 individuals with associated automobiles and other issues in the quiet rural neighborhoods on Market Hill, Flat Hills and Henry streets.

The proposed development is offered, in part, as a solution to Amherst’s well-documented problems with student housing rentals dispersed in residential neighborhoods. It is suggested that the The Retreat will draw renters away from these neighborhoods, lessening or solving that problematic issue. This seems at best a self-serving logic, since it is unlikely that anyone could expect either unoccupied rental properties, or perhaps better-behaved tenants back-filling those vacancies.

What was not mentioned in the explanation of the proposal is that the land being purchased is managed forest. That being said, the Amherst master plan notes: “Perhaps the most significant theme that surfaced throughout the Planning Amherst Together process is the need to protect the Town’s significant open spaces, including wildlife habitats, farmland, recreational lands, scenic vistas, and environmentally sensitive areas.”

Once the construction occurs, this forest land will be lost for all generations. Is this a cost Amherst can afford?

If we look at the Goals and Policies, Section 2.6, of the Land Use chapter, development of this forest land diametrically opposes many of the goals expressed that would give preference to directing future development to existing built-up areas, preserving key undeveloped lands and guiding new housing growth so as to minimize impact on Amherst’s open space and small-town rural character.

I urge the Planning Board, Select Board and Conservation Commission to carefully consider all the ramifications of this proposal before quickly jumping on board. It seems that the citizen input solicited for the Master Planning Document will be challenged, and could open the door to future similar challenges to change the character of the town that we desired and adopted.

Jacob Hirsch


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