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Jack Hirsch: Why has town of Amherst retreated from Master Plan?

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 they can build “the Retreat,” an upscale cottage-style student housing project with 170 units “and all the 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. 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 Pine Street-North Pleasant Street intersection will routinely back up in all directions and the dangerous East Pleasant Street-Pine Street-Sand Hill Road intersection 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 enterprise who maximize their profits but do not have Amherst’s long term best interests in mind!

Jack Hirsch


Legacy Comments2

I think quality housing is desired by students. However as a community we have to take steps to ensure that we are looking at the health of the entire community. That is what a master plan strives to do; nothing nefarious. In fact, just the opposite. One piece though that often gets waylaid is how to coordinate overall community planning in a fair market economy. That's a stumbling block. I think we should ensure that current rental housing in Amherst is maintained to a standard that enhances our town and neighborhoods while maintaining diversity of town/gown age/youth and household incomes. ....does nobody else see this as similar to the race of the middle class to the "suburbs"? Sounds like "flight" to me. And what happens to the cities, the towns, that are discarded? We throw words around quite eloquently "diversity", "inclusive" "sustainable", "green", talk about "footprints" etc but what does all of that really mean? Why not take care of what we HAVE, improve it, make it desireable; rather than throw it away and build "new and improved"?? I agree that a lot of the off campus housing is not comparable to the standard of living to which many of the students are accustomed nor what their parents want to pay for. It's not what I would choose to live in and most certainly it would be rare to find any of these landlords living in the conditions they "own". We have too many slum lords raking in quite a bit of money from housing that is more convenient to the University....but they've been allowed to own property, profit, and negatively impact entire neighborhoods with student "ghetto" housing. All in the name of "fair market"....one could however liken it to privately-owned company housing. Students are a captive population to some degree. $400-$800 a bedroom for some truly appalling housing and NO money put back into the property. I think as a community we are complicit in this. Our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are suffering from this. This idea to discard the old, let it deteriorate and build "new" stretching further and further out from towns/cities is a cultural problem. Let's come up with a solution to the problem not just walk away from it and start something new.

What is the master plan? To keep the "undesirables" away from our school system and town?

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