Judge throws out lawsuit filed by Joel Greenbaum seeking to halt One East Pleasant project in Amherst

Last modified: Saturday, August 15, 2015

AMHERST — A project that would replace the Amherst Carriage Shops with a five-story mixed-use building can move forward, a Hampshire Superior Court judge ruled this week.

Judge Richard Carey on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit filed Dec. 22, 2014, by Joel Greenbaum of Greenbaum Rentals that sought to overturn the Planning Board’s approval of special permits for the proposed One East Pleasant project. The mixed-use building, planned by Amherst-based Archipelago Investments, will stand 55 to 60 feet in height and be situated less than 20 feet from two of Greenbaum Rentals’ property lines.

“While the project is large in scale, the proposed building is almost entirely within what the bylaws permit the developer to build as a matter of right,” Carey wrote in his ruling.

Plans call for One East Pleasant to be a five-story, 84-apartment building with retail space at ground level and parking for 36 vehicles in a covered garage. Another major Archipelago project — the mixed-use Kendrick Place at the intersection of Triangle and East Pleasant streets — is due to be completed this month.

Donald Courtemanche, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said the court decision removes the last remaining uncertainty for the project and assures the town that Archipelago can make a sizable investment.

“This is exactly the type of sustainable, in-fill development that the master plan calls for and the Amherst Business Improvement District and chamber support,” Courtemanche said.

Town Manager John Musante said development and revitalization are important for what is being called the “innovation district” of Amherst center.

“We are very pleased that the motion for summary judgment was granted,” Musante said. “To me, it reaffirms the thoroughness of the Planning Board’s review of the project and the appropriateness of the zoning bylaw for granting permits.”

Archipelago has already paid $4.6 million to acquire the 53-year-old Carriage Shops structure, which was built as a motel before being converted into retail and office space in the 1970s. Two additional buildings that formerly housed the Loose Goose Cafe and the law offices of Seewald, Jankowski & Spencer are also slated to be torn down to make way for the new building.

Courtemanche said the development will bring construction jobs, property taxes and customers back to an area of downtown that has suffered since businesses such as Loose Goose closed earlier this year and Amherst Wines and Spirits and Glazed Doughnut Shop moved in 2014.

“It’s quickly becoming a sore spot in downtown, and the quicker they get that down, the better,” Courtemanche said of the Carriage Shops.

Greenbaum had contended that the building would make parking in the area more challenging and lead to traffic congestion, and that the size of One East Pleasant would cause problems at his properties on North Pleasant and Hallock Street, including casting a shadow on one property. He also argued that the Planning Board’s decision was illegal because the project violates zoning, does not have a proper stormwater retention plan or required affordable units, and is designed to be an off-campus dormitory, which is not allowed in the general business zoning district.

In an email to the Gazette, Greenbaum said he was disappointed to see the 18 stores of the carriage shops replaced with what he called "an oversized dormitory in the town's center."

"What the business improvement district really needs are pretty retail store fronts and modern office space. Dormitories belong on campus," he said.

Carey issued both the summary judgment requested by the town’s attorney — Joel Bard of Kopelman & Paige, which is based in Boston — and also struck from the record an affidavit related to the parking issue filed on behalf of Greenbaum by Rolf Karlstrom of Fearing Street.

In his ruling, Carey indicated that Greenbaum is not facing a unique situation, noting that town officials are working on addressing downtown parking issues through planning and community forums.

“Greenbaum fails to show how parking is a harm particular to him. In order to be an aggrieved person, the harm must be personal and not felt by the community at large,” Carey wrote.

The judge also critiqued Karlstrom’s analysis — “Karlstrom, as a biology professor and town resident, does not possess the knowledge necessary to evaluate city parking.”

In court, attorney Mark Bobrowski told Carey that Greenbaum’s suit was motivated entirely by his opposition to having competition for renters. Greenbaum and his family own 27 properties in town, and rent apartments primarily to college students.

Greenbaum’s attorney, Donna MacNicol of Greenfield, told Carey that because of a lack of overnight parking downtown, renters already park in Greenbaum’s lots illegally and cause problems for legitimate tenants.

Kyle Wilson, a principal with Archipelago, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but said in an earlier interview that the lawsuit could delay the project for six to 12 months but would not stop it.

The precise timeline for demolition of the Carriage Shops and construction of One East Pleasant is not yet known. Archipelago has already created plans for replicating the Amherst History Mural that is on an exterior wall of the Carriage Shops, facing the historic West Cemetery.

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


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