Ira Bryck: Amherst and UMass must control growth

  • seb_ra

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Amherst and UMass must control growth

My family will soon be celebrating our 25th anniversary of moving from overcrowded Long Island to the quaint college town of Amherst.

That almost qualifies us as townies, in a place that is both a homeland for families seeking a balanced life, and allegedly the best college town in America.

It is an uneasy peace between our permanent and transient citizens, supposedly with 60 percent of houses in Amherst being rentals, and many student rentals. There also are two five-story private dorms looming over our small but infilling central business district.

At two recent “listening sessions” hosted by the town government, there was widespread consensus that enough is enough, and that the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals need to question the “bias for yes” that has led to unbridled growth, clamp down on easy granting of variances, and add more teeth to enforce our occupancy standards. On that last item, how about changing the current limit from four to three unrelated parties? That would allow young home-buying families to more evenly compete with the spending power of multiple parents supporting their adult children who are students and renting houses.

It’s past due that the town and University of Massachusetts have more earnest discussions about limits to growth, and the university should commit to housing more students on campus. Yes, it is a growing state university, both in size and stature. No, it is not in a major city, like so many other growing state universities.

Amherst is wonderful, largely from the benefits of our major industry being higher education. But we may be the best college town in America because we are not just an extension of campus. We are a real place, but unaffordable to those young professionals and young families we claim we want to attract.

This long-term trend can only be controlled with vigilance and restraint by both town and gown. What got us here won’t get us there; where we’re heading is not where we’ll enjoy being.

Ira Bryck