Residents pen letter critical of low-income housing project in Amherst 

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2019 12:14:34 AM

AMHERST — Almost 50 residents who live near the Route 9 site of a proposed building that would provide apartments to 28 low-income individuals are urging the Town Council to vote against authorizing any municipal spending on the project until a series of concerns are addressed.

A letter sent to the 13 councilors Tuesday from 48 people living in District 3 and 4 requests that the Finance Committee temporarily put off a recommendation to borrow $500,000 from the Community Preservation Act account to support the Valley Community Development Corp.’s single-room occupancy, or SRO, project at 132 Northampton Road.

“We are not saying ‘not in our backyard,’” the residents write. “We are saying ‘please get this right, because it’s our backyard.’”

The letter states that future tenants of the project deserve a housing plan “with sufficient support for them to successfully integrate into the neighborhood.”

Kate Troast of 99 Dana St. said Tuesday that the residents who live near the project site, on the south side of Northampton Road adjacent to Amherst College’s Pratt Field, are asking for significantly more dialogue.

“We don’t feel there’s enough details worked out about this project,” Troast said.

The CPA Committee, though, is recommending the project, which has also been endorsed by the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust.

Tuesday afternoon, the Finance Committee agreed to delay its vote on the borrowing until June 25, which will follow a facilitated community discussion on the project June 18 at 6 p.m. at the Bangs Community Center. The Town Council will then vote on the borrowing either July 1 or July 18.

Since learning about the building in April, Troast said the focus for those who live nearby has been getting more data about how similar projects, which feature apartments with beds, bathrooms and kitchenettes, work in other communities.

This data indicates that the proposal will not effectively serve the residents of the SRO and will negatively impact the surrounding community, especially since there will only be supervision of the site during the day, rather than having around the clock, on-site management.

As part of the research, the residents collected data about police calls to five similar sites managed by Valley CDC in Northampton and presented the data with their letter of the Town Council.

The project previously won approval from Town Meeting, which had to change municipal zoning to accommodate such a project that features units all the same size, rather than a mix of one-, two- three- and four-bedroom units.

Among suggestions the neighbors have is making the development smaller with more funding for staff, increasing funding for organizations like Amherst Community Connections, which provides immediate relief for homelessness through rental subsidies, renovation of existing properties elswehere in town, or family-oriented affordable housing at this location.

The letter states that access to Pratt Field may be shut off by the college if any problems develop.

“A few of us are Amherst College professors and we contacted college officials to determine what might happen if there are problematic incidents between the SRO and Amherst College students. The college responded that they would shut down the athletic fields to public access.”

A college spokesperson told the Gazette that the college will not be making any public comment regarding the project.

John Hornik, chairman of the housing trust, has responded to concerns that the project should be allowed to proceed past the funding stage to the permitting stage. At that point, Valley CDC will have to obtain a comprehensive permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals. Issues such as impacts on traffic and necessary screening will be addressed at that time.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said a delay in the Finance Committee process is not a problem, as the borrowing can be done outside the normal budget season. Bockelman’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, as well as the capital plan and budgets for library and schools, must be complete by July 1.

“Because it’s borrowing, they don’t have to make the decision by June 30,” Bockelman said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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