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Marybeth Bridegam: Beware the “Retreat” being sold later

To the editor:

Why is a huge student housing project, referred to as “mini-dorms,” being considered permissible by Amherst? Does the town realize that building complexes of “mini-dorms” in university towns is a growing investment trend across the nation? Why should Amherst be victimized by an out-of-town, for-profit company that wants to come here to make a lot of money from large-scale renting to UMass students? Although Landmark Properties wants to build the “Retreat” in the heavily wooded Cushman section of Amherst and has promised to maintain and manage the “mini-dorms” they build there, does the town realize that Landmark Properties built mini-dorm projects in Raleigh, N.C., and in Tallahassee, Fla. ,and sold them, within a year, to Inland American Real Estate Trust — for millions of dollars of profit.

Both companies are planning rapid expansions of mini-dorm projects in university towns across the country, due to their high degree of profitability. Why isn’t the university taking responsibility for housing its students? Why isn’t The Retreat being built on university land? Shouldn’t students be housed close together, close to their classes, under the auspices of the university? Is scattering “mini-dorms” throughout Amherst a plan — or — the lack of a plan by our town? Why isn’t there a Town/University Plan for Student Housing?

Once large-scale student housing has been successfully shrugged off by UMass, where will the next “mini-dorms” in Amherst be built? Perhaps in South Amherst? Maybe in East Amherst, along Belchertown Road, next to Amherst Woods? Do we want our town to be one big dormitory, with students racing back and forth through our town neighborhoods, between and among their “mini-dorms” and those of their friends in other parts of town?

What will change in your Amherst neighborhood when you have “mini-dorms” on your street? Is your neighborhood next? If “mini-dorms” are scattered around the different areas of our town, how long will we still have hiking trails, quiet walks for birders and the profusion of wildlife that is now a vital part of our environment?

Marybeth Bridegam

Amherst

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