Council clears hurdle for high-tech research center in North Amherst

  • A artist’s rendering shows the 80,000-square-foot building that will house the technology and manufacturing incubator, which will bring together businesses, UMass researchers and scientists. COURTESY IMAGE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2021 1:44:25 PM

AMHERST — Amherst officials will allow a North Amherst property used for agricultural purposes to be sold to a private developer interested in bringing a high-tech research center to the site.

The Town Council on Monday voted 13-0 to not exercise its right of first refusal to buy the land, situated between Sunderland and Montague roads north of Cowls Road and owned by the Thomas F. Mitchell Family Trust and Mitchell Family Farm Trust.

The right of first refusal, in which the town would have to match a $1.6 million purchase-and-sale agreement between the trusts and Amherst developer Barry Roberts, comes as part of the state’s Chapter 61A program that gives landowners property tax relief when they have active farmland.

The property includes 18½ acres slated for The Eruptor Lab. Roberts is a senior adviser for nuForj LLC of Springfield, which is planning the project that would offer incubation space for companies to build, develop, test and improve their projects using technology, such as three-dimensional printing and other sophisticated manufacturing equipment.

Thomas Reidy, an attorney with Bacon Wilson, PC of Amherst, said the site is one of the last professional research park zoned properties in Amherst. About 6 ½ acres of the Mitchell-owned land will remain in outlying residence zoning.

The council made its decision despite conflicting recommendations, with the Conservation Commission advising councilors, in a 6-0 vote, to move forward with a purchase of the land, and the Planning Board, in a 4-0 vote, telling councilors to allow the private sale to happen.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the Conservation Commission members appreciate that the property likely has a perennial stream and associated wetlands, and potential intermittent streams. Portions of the property near Sunderland Road may also have prime agricultural soils, he said.

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