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Michael Howard: Time for ‘Retreat’ sides to come together

To the editor:

On April 16, over 50 residents of Amherst met with the representatives of Landmark Properties at Jones Library where we learned of their intention to build 191 houses for over 700 students on 150 acres owned by Cinda Jones that directly abuts Cushman Village.

At several points, the Landmark representative spoke of “their product” when referring to their “Retreat” brand of student housing. Such language was a simple but significant indicator of the clash of cultures between the developers and the local residents. What for Landmark is a “product,” is for the residents of Cushman and North Amherst the heart and soul of our community.

In the formal and informal exchanges with Landmark representatives — as well as informally with Cinda Jones — it became transparent that, while paying lip service to community, these developers were insensitive to the hypocrisy of proposing plans in which they have everything to gain while the residents of Cushman and North Amherst have everything to lose — the destruction of natural habitats, intensification of already existing traffic risks, expanding the domain of student partying and the loss of property value, to name only a few.

The Retreat project in Cushman is the tipping point that brings all the student-related issues to a head. They must be addressed comprehensively, not piecemeal. For this reason, all off-campus student housing projects must be put on hold to allow for a comprehensive reassessment of what is right for Amherst residents as much as the university and developers.

The sustainable forms of energy and agriculture we need for the future cannot be developed through individual and corporate power plays but through new capacities of collaboration. Similarly, individual power plays no longer serve but destroy sustainable forms of community. I invite Landmark, Cinda Jones, the university and other real estate developers to step up to the quickly changing social landscape by not pressing forward with business as usual. Instead, play a leading role as an equal among equals. Lets develop Amherst together as an authentic and sustainable community.

Power destroys community; Empathy builds community.

Michael Howard


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