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INFOGRAPHIC Save Historic Cushman presents 122 concerns about proposed Retreat student housing project

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>The University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst.
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>The University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst.

“I am quite confident that this case (in Land Court) will still be pending when the Planning Board has made its decision,” Joel Bard, an attorney with Kopelman & Paige, a Boston-based law firm, told board members Wednesday.

At the second session of a hearing on the definitive subdivision for the 641-bed project known as The Retreat at Amherst, Bard said the proposal by Landmark Properties of Athens, Georgia, is not a social dormitory or similar use.

The units will be used primarily by college students, but the project should still be considered under the town’s zoning bylaw that allows cluster subdivisions in the outlying and neighborhood residential zoning districts, Bard said.

A few dozen residents again packed the Town Room at Town Hall for the hearing, which also included a presentation by a consultant working on behalf of Save Historic Cushman, a group opposing the development.

Thomas Houston, president of Professional Services Corp. of Foxborough, explained that a major concern is that zoning bylaws are supposed to foster development in keeping with the character of neighborhoods. Landmark proposes to construct both single-family units and two-family dwellings on 147 acres of steep woodland. A reduction in project density, Houston said, “is reasonable and required.”

In a memo containing 122 points of concern, Houston provided details about significant violations of the town’s design standards for streets, and explained that land clearing would extensively alter the site. There could be 5,600 truck trips to remove soil from the site over a period of 350 days, Houston said.

A 4,162-foot-long dead-end street raises concerns about blocking of emergency vehicles and poor traffic circulation, in general, Houston said. “No regulation I’ve seen allows a dead-end street of more than 4,000 feet in length,” he added.

Houston also argued that vehicular traffic will be substantially higher than estimated in the traffic study Landmark commissioned. He said comparing the project to a traditional apartment complex such as Puffton Village is not reasonable because The Retreat would be leasing by the room, rather than by the unit. The Retreat is also farther from the University of Massachusetts campus, the school many of its tenants are expected to attend.

Meanwhile, Planning Board members got insights into details of how the actual project would look on the ground from Christine Brestrup, a senior planner for the town. Among features that could be problematic, she said, are extensive steep slopes, including a 40-foot drop adjacent to one unit.

There also would be tall retaining walls, some as high as 28 feet, next to roads in the project. Brestrup said the board may want to require that railings be placed on the walls so people do not jump from them.

The Planning Board is expected to continue the hearing on the project Sept. 17 and must render a decision by Oct. 26.

Related

Consultant’s suggestion of public-private housing on University of Massachusetts Amherst campus would require legislative approval

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

AMHERST — Public-private partnerships leading to construction of new student housing and commercial space at the University of Massachusetts would require approval by the state Legislature. The proposal is among preliminary recommendations from a town-gown study. But whether the concept is realistic in providing more housing and encouraging economic development may hinge on the quality of the proposal and then …

Legacy Comments4

How can Landmark "preclude" families from their properties? This is housing discrimination. And, isn't it Landmark's usual pattern to sell off their developments soon after they build them? Who is to say what new owner's will do...

This article was not well done. I attended both the last two Planning Board meetings. By my count about the same number of people (90 +or -) attended both meetings. In his article about the meeting on 7/30, Mr. Merzbach cited around 75 attending. In this article that number becomes "a few dozen residents." Sorry Mr. Merznbach, but any one who can count could see there were much more than a few dozen (=36). Secondly, there was no report of the residents' comments which, although constrained by time, we quite important, especially Chris Pile's remarks detailing Landmark's failure to do what the Planning Board requested in December 2013. In response to NYOB above, the lease arrangements for "the Retreat", basically preclude families from living there despite Landmark's propaganda otherwise. This place is designed only for students who are wealthy.

What is to keep this from becoming yet another low-income-family-kids-in-the-schools-lots-of-police-calls apartment complex like has happened to others? Boulders, Southpoint, etc. Nothing that I can see.

Attorney Bard is not the planning czar of Amherst. Nor is he a specialist in zoning and as far as I know has never been a part of any town meeting that debated any zoning issue. The issue of whether the retreat is legally zoned belongs to the zoning board of Amherst. Even if the board did not agree with the "similar use issue" which is ,non the less firmly established in the records of the town meeting that passed it, the Retreat is, in all ways ,but structure,a typical apartment complex, only worse. It is rented by the room and is not legal in an RO zone. In addition Houston's presentation was very thorough and competent and clear unlike the extremely sloppy, and cookie cutter work by Landmark which has been presented so far to both the planning and conservation boards. It is time for the Gazette to make sure that any article on this issue is fairly presented.

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