Historic District not ready to clear plans for Amherst Media HQ

  • A rendering of the new plans for Amherst Media’s headquarters, proposed for property the public access station owns at Main and Gray streets. COURTESY OF GILLEN COLLABORATIVE ARCHITECTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2019 11:46:42 PM

AMHERST — Amherst Media officials are still awaiting a decision on whether they will be granted a certificate of appropriateness allowing them to proceed with plans to build a new headquarters in the Emily Dickinson Local Historical District.

At a meeting Tuesday that continued a hearing on the project that began in March, the Local Historic District Commission again postponed a vote, scheduling a follow-up meeting for Oct. 22.

Senior Planner Nathaniel Malloy said the commission wants to have more in-depth discussion about what is appropriate for the site, at the corner of Main and Gray streets, and whether the project meets the criteria outlined in the bylaw adopted in 2012.

“At this point some of the design received favorable feedback, while there are questions and comments about other aspects of the plans,” Malloy said.

The latest plans for the $1.3 million production facility and technology center, designed by Gillen Collaborative Architects, feature a peaked roof, covered porches and clapboard siding. The building would be constructed on two lots, totaling 0.56 acres, a short distance east of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

But even though the previous barn-like appearance of the building has been adjusted, the project continues to face opposition from residents who live on Gray Street. Many are concerned that the 1½-story building is still not a good fit for the site and that its size, along with parking, would compromise a greenspace in front of the historic Henry Hills House.

Amherst Media oversees the public access, educational and government television channels for the town and broadcasts numerous public meetings and local programs, and offers its studios for original programming as well as a variety of instruction in media. That studio, on College Street, is owned by Eversource, which sent a letter to the nonprofit several years ago advising that it would eventually be evicted.

During the Historic District Commission meeting, the Henry Hills House owners, Robert Speiser and Anthony Brackett, upped an offer to buy Amherst Media’s land from $260,000 to $275,000. In March, Amherst Media board members by consensus opted against accepting a deal to sell the land.

Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault said an appraisal of the two lots shows they are worth $345,000.

Speiser said that if Amherst Media agreed to a deal, the town or the Dickinson Local Historic District would be given the larger of the two lots, subject to some boundary adjustments.

“That lot would be maintained by the town as a park or garden, and we agreed that no structures would be built on either lot in perpetuity,” Speiser said.

Without clearance by the Historic District Commission, it’s unlikely Amherst Media can go before the Planning Board to begin a site plan review process.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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