Parking a concern for 68-unit apartment project for college students in Amherst

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2022 4:54:24 PM
Modified: 8/5/2022 4:51:17 PM

AMHERST — A new apartment building featuring 68 units and 230 beds at the site of a former sorority house on Olympia Drive, to be rented exclusively to college students, is making its way through the town’s permitting process.

For the five-story project at 47 Olympia Drive, proposed by Amherst developer Archipelago Investments, LLC, a focus for planners at Wednesday’s initial hearing is whether there will be sufficient parking nearby.

Like the neighboring Olympia Place that opened in fall 2016 at 57 Olympia Drive as a 75-unit, 236-bed apartment building, there is no on-site parking.

But Kyle Wilson, a principal with Archipelago, said there are 625 parking spaces controlled by the University of Massachusetts within 800 feet of the property, and in the six years operating Olympia Place, there have been no issues for tenants with their vehicles.

“Our sense is we’ve had no problems with the parking here whatsoever,” Wilson said.

Still, Planning Board member Janet McGowan said a traffic report would help planners understand how many vehicles tenants might have, adding that there is increasing pressure on parking in town.

Chairman Douglas Marshall encouraged Archipelago to add a drop-off zone in front of the building for visitors.

Wilson presented plans that show two five-story buildings, connected at one end. Between the buildings is a landscaped courtyard that would be allowed for gatherings and other uses.

“Very impressive, very creative” is how board member Andrew MacDougall described the project and connector between the buildings.

Planning Board member Johanna Neumann, who said she sees the building as elegant and beautiful, said she is excited that solar is on the south-facing roofs, but wondered if other fossil fuel sources beyond electricity would be needed on site, especially for heating water.

Wilson said aside from the on-site generator, which would be powered by some type of fossil fuel, likely propane, the idea is that electricity would be the only other power source needed.

“Our hope is everything else, the heating, the cooling, the hot water, will be all-electric when we open this building,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Archipelago is able to do this through a CO2-based, all-electric heat pumps for domestic hot water.

“We’re excited that technology is finally available,” Wilson said, explaining that typically developments have needed gas or propane to make sure there is sufficient hot water when people are using dishwashers and taking showers.

The solar makes a small dent in the energy needs, he said, but there is not enough roof space to accommodate all the energy. Wilson said the plan is to buy green energy from Eversource to supplement the demands.

McGowan said she would like more details about on-site management and whether this is needed to reduce issues often associated with students rentals, including parties.

The project hearing will continue Sept. 21 at 6:35 p.m., at which time the town engineer, fire department and Conservation Commission are expected to provide reports to the Planning Board.

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

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