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Eva Lohrer: UMass should welcome ‘Retreat’ on its own campus

To the editor:

One of the tenets of good zoning is that property owners know what to expect. I don’t think any of us in the Cushman area had any idea that property zoned “out-lying residential” could be developed into a 700-plus student-housing complex. The complex closely resembles a student dormitory or apartment complex (both of which are specifically prohibited) but because the complex is to be constructed as 190 separate units, the developers are attempting to exploit a loophole and qualify as a “cluster” of single-family homes.

Equally troubling is the way the complex is being marketed, beginning with the name “The Retreat,” which promises to be anything but. The project is being presented as a “solution” to the problems experienced by other neighborhoods in Amherst. I am skeptical of any solution which invites an additional 700 students to move into another residential neighborhood.

It has been suggested that by moving students from single-family dwellings to a large complex they will behave more appropriately or if they don’t it won’t much matter. You only need to read the newspaper accounts of the Blarney Blowout at the Townhouse apartments to doubt the veracity of the first claim and to realize the irresponsibility of the second. Supporters of the complex hope that disruptive students located in single-family houses near campus will magically “self-deport” to the “Retreat.”

Most importantly, student behavior is not going to improve by changing the location of the students or from changing the configuration of their homes. The problem is accountability.

The most practical solution is to locate the complex on the UMass campus.

The new chancellor of UMass has spoken favorably of the “Retreat” and therefore I am optimistic that he will support legislation to allow for private-public partnerships on his campus. The university has buildable land, largely deforested with good infrastructure. Building the “Retreat” on campus is both environmentally responsible and cost effective but perhaps most importantly it will house students under the wing of the institution that can most effectively nudge them to adulthood — my alma mater — Go UMass!

Eva Lohrer

Amherst

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