Eversource abandons plans for new utility box on Amherst Town Common

  • One of the three large utility boxes already on the Amherst Town Common. The proposed additional box would have been 6 feet high. STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2019 11:25:38 PM

AMHERST — Eversource is withdrawing its request to install a new utility box on the Town Common following objections from the Town Council.

In an email sent Friday to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, following a meeting with town officials, Eversource representative Nicholas Creigle wrote that the project is being abandoned. 

“Eversource has decided to rebuild the existing manhole roof instead of moving forward with the proposed transformer,” Creigle wrote.

At the board’s Aug. 26 meeting, councilors objected to putting the 6-foot-tall, 5-foot-wide and 3-foot-deep metal utility box, which would have contained a three-phase transformer and other equipment that is currently housed under the South Pleasant Street sidewalk, on the greenspace.

The work was part of a project to create a loop for the power in that section of downtown and also have the power and telephone lines on Spring Street below ground. The loop configuration is still expected to happen for the mixed-use project by Archipelago Investments LLC, at 26 Spring St. Next to the Grace Episcopal Church and across from the Inn on Boltwood, the development will feature 58 dwellings, mostly for graduate students at the University of Massachusetts, and 1,000 square feet on the street level for commercial use.

Eversource also had been informed that its plans would be subject to review by the Design Review Board and the Historical Commission, which have oversight for projects on the Town Common.

Even with the decision, Bockelman responded to the company in an email that he hopes it will consider installing an underground vault on town land in the Spring Street parking lot.

“This location is closer to the existing underground vault than the proposed above-ground transformer, has all the clearances you would require and would allow easy access in the event of work needing to be done. Installing a new underground vault, instead of repairing the existing vault, would also likely result in less impact on your customers,” he wrote.

The decision to not put another object on the Town Common was supported by Jeff Lee of South East Street.

Lee told councilors Monday that the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted offered advice to Amherst in the 19th century about having the Town Common free of overhead wires, and that underground utilities are a priority in many communities.

Meantime, the Town Council postponed a decision on a request from Archipelago principals Kyle Wilson and David Williams to have a dedicated drop-off space in front of their new Spring Street building, which will have no on-site parking. The council instructed the Department of Public Works to comes up with plans for how parking and the streetscape can be improved before deciding whether the drop-off space is needed.

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