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Presidential Apartments seeks permits to expand in Amherst

Presidential Apartments, a complex just north of the University of Massachusetts, could add more than four dozen new units and house 96 new tenants if a proposed expansion project is approved.

Representatives from Toby Cohn Family Investments of West Hartford, Conn., which owns the more than 40-year-old complex, are seeking a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to create 54 new dwelling units at the 950 North Pleasant St. site.

The Zoning Board will hold a hearing on the project Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Room at Town Hall.

Senior Planner Jeffrey Bagg said the project encompasses nine new buildings with 12 one-bedroom apartments and 42 two-bedroom apartments.

These would supplement the existing 85 units built in the 1960s, of which 35 are one-bedroom, 46 are two-bedroom and four are three-bedroom.

The complex is considered “pre-existing, nonconforming” by the town, Bagg said, because it was permitted for construction in the 1960s before neighborhood residence zoning was adopted. That district prohibits construction of new apartment complexes.

“Our zoning bylaw allows the expansion or extension of pre-existing nonconforming uses, in this case more apartments, if the ZBA finds that the use is not substantially more detrimental to the neighborhood than the existing use,” Bagg said.

In its management plan, Cohn Investments notes that it was already approved for a second phase of 68 units in 1966 that were never built. In addition, most of its tenants are graduate students, teaching assistants, families and local workers, according to the company. The property is managed by Kamins Real Estate.

Even though Presidential has long-term tenants and fewer issues related to the behavior of undergraduate students, any expansion will be a concern for residents who live in and near North Amherst, said Nonny Burack of 40 Valley Lane, the neighborhood closest to the project site.

Burack said she is worried about the prospect of adding more population and traffic to the already busy area.

Besides Presidential, housing complexes in the area include North Village, Puffton Village and Townehouse Apartments, all on the west side of North Pleasant Street, and Gilreath Manor and Crestview Apartments, on the east side of the road.

As a member of the Shade Tree Committee, Burack said, she is also concerned about the possible loss of trees and habitat to make way for new buildings and parking lots.

Janet Keller of Pulpit Hill Road said a nearby flood zone should give town permitting officials pause about granting a special permit for the project.

Planning Director Jonathan Tucker said in an email that it’s not certain what impact the proposed expansion of Presidential Apartments will have on the town’s affordable housing inventory.

The state’s Subsidized Housing Inventory only recognizes and includes low-income housing affordable to households earning less than 80 percent of the annual median area income, while the town’s inclusionary zoning requires 10 percent of units in a multi-unit housing proposal to be affordable to either low-income or moderate-income individuals and families, who can make between 80 and 120 percent of the annual median area income.

Cohn Investments has not yet submitted a plan indicating how it will meet the affordability criteria.

“It will in the end be up to the ZBA to determine what balance of low-income and moderate-income affordable housing will be required,” Tucker said.

In July, the Conservation Commission issued an order of conditions related to the project after it conducted an extensive review of the buildings, parking lots and roads to determine how drainage systems would handle additional runoff.

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