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Jack Hirsch: Need ‘honest’ discussion of development’s merits

To the editor:

We in Amherst are very sensitive to the accusation of being “unfriendly” to business, and thus anti-development. It seems that we are finally at the point at which we accept any development, and questioning it “proves” we are against development and against expanding the tax base.

Can we have an honest discussion about the merits of a development and whether it improves Amherst, or if in fact it creates more problems than it solves? Of course, I am referring to Cinda Jones’ proposal to sell Cushman acreage to Landmark Properties so it can build The Retreat, an upscale cottage-style student housing project with 170 units and amenities like a gym and theater.

Does anyone think this will solve a single problem that now exists due to student rentals?

Downtown housing will always be in demand due to its proximity to the University of Massachusetts. Now there will be increased parking demand in central Amherst as students from The Retreat will leave their cars in town and take busses to class.

Outdoor parties will migrate from Hobart Lane and Meadow Street eastward on Pine Street to the “wooded” retreat in Cushman, and create a “party artery” between these student enclaves. Traffic at the intersection of Pine and North Pleasant streets will routinely back up in all directions, and the three-way intersection of East Pleasant Street, Pine Street and Sand Hill Road, already dangerous, will become significantly more so.

None of these critical considerations speaks to the loss of passive recreation land and open space, both emphasized by our Master Plan. Wasn’t this plan created by the citizens of Amherst to direct our town boards in their planning and actions?

Without this public discussion, Amherst is left to the dealings of private enterprises that maximize their profits but do not have Amherst’s long-term best interests in mind.

Jack Hirsch


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