Developer moving forward with downtown building projects in Amherst 

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst on Saturday afternoon, March 14, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2021 2:54:16 PM

AMHERST — An Amherst developer proposing a new five-story, mixed-use building at the northern end of downtown anticipates resuming construction on a similar project on Spring Street in 2021, more than a year after work was halted on that development.

During the initial May 5 Planning Board hearing on the latest downtown project proposed by Archipelago Investments, LLC, a 55-apartment building to be known as 11 East Pleasant, principal Kyle Wilson told planners that the 26 Spring St. project will start up again later this year. The latter project includes 58 apartments. 

That project was stopped as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region. “We shut 26 Spring St. down the day before the mayor of Boston shut down all construction in Boston,” Wilson said.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen told the Planning Board she is concerned that the Town Council granted a 15-month closure of the sidewalk on the north side of Spring Street to accommodate the project, which is being built on a site next to Grace Episcopal Church and the Amherst Police Station.

“Why start a new building before you finished the old one,” Schoene asked.

Wilson said the timeline for the new building requires going through town permitting far in advance so that contractors can be lined up. With respect to the Spring Street project, he explained that it has been caught in supply chain issues, including a 150- to 180- day delay in getting rock wool insulation.

“We thought that these hiccups would be three months, it turns out these are more likely nine months to 12 months,” Wilson said.

Wilson said a contractor completed about 2 ½ months of framing and a new contractor will have 3 ½ months of framing left to do.

Though an inactive site would normally not be allowed to remain dormant for so long, Building Commissioner Rob Morra wrote in an email that the pandemic and state of emergency in Massachusetts has provided extensions for all land use approvals and permitting.

Meantime, the project that would rise next to One East Pleasant Street and replace the Summerlin and Piper buildings, which have previously housed businesses such as Cousins Market, and a large parking lot, had its first hearing.

Wilson told planners that the project will be vital for the downtown economy. “It’s a piece of land that is very important to the future of Amherst,” Wilson said.

Archipelago is seeking special permits for a side setback, which would be 5 feet instead of the required 10 feet, and a rear setback to the West Cemetery, which would be 5 feet instead of the required 20 feet. The building height, at 56 feet, 9 inches, would rise above the 55-foot limit. In addition to the 55 apartments and 134 bedroooms, the project includes 1,300 square feet of retail and 16 parking spots.

The long, narrow building will have Alaskan yellow cedar siding, zinc cladding and gray danish brick, and Juliet balconies.

Planning Board member Maria Chao said she appreciates the developer is making a long building look good and interesting.

“I really like the attention to detail, the materials, the sort of care about wrapping materials and the carving of the facade,” Chao said.

“It’s a very attractive project, and you’ve put a lot of attention into breaking down a pretty large building,” said board member Douglas Marshall.  But he questioned whether the small size of retail would be viable.

This would be the fifth downtown project from Archipelago, joining One East Pleasant, Kendrick Place, Boltwood Place and 26 Spring, and the sixth overall, with Olympia Place on Olympia Drive serving only college students.

Wilson told planners that the project complements the town's rental housing inventory.

“The need that we satisfy in our units is the same need that’s satisfied in the other 5,000 units that are rented in Amherst,” Wilson said.

Despite the university pursuing housing projects, including replacement of both the North Village Apartments and Lincoln Apartments, and the possibility of changing demographics and fewer college students, Wilson said he doesn’t expect rental demand to subside anytime soon.

“We look forward to the university continuing to thrive and get better as it is has done,” Wilson said. “The sooner we could stop imagining that the housing demand in Amherst is going down the sooner we can start coming up with solutions.”

The hearing on the project continues June 2 at 7:30 p.m.

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


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