Mission complete: Officials, residents celebrate North Square development in Amherst’s Mill District 

  • Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to Carlie Tartakov before the ceremony at the opening of the North Square in the Mill District in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at the opening ceremony of the North Square at the Mill District in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • North Square at the Mill District STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nolan Russell talks about living in the residential apartments in North Square at the Mill District in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls Inc., speaks at the opening ceremony of North Square at the Mill District in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rob Sadler talks about living in the residential apartments in North Square at the Mill District in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment at North Square at the Mill District in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Published: 7/7/2021 8:52:01 PM

AMHERST — Aschleigh Jensen moved into North Square in December of 2019, just before the pandemic turned everyday life upside down. The new mixed residential-commercial development in Amherst’s Mill District offers some low-income housing, which is where Jensen lives.

“I have a really reduced rent,” she said. “It’s quite the blessing.”

The low-income apartments made it possible for Jensen and her mother to stay in the Amherst area because it was the only affordable housing they could find.

“If we hadn’t found this place, we would have had to go pretty far,” she said. “We were looking in Springfield and Holyoke.”

Jensen contracted COVID-19 in January, which made her even more thankful to have somewhere affordable to live. “If I had had COVID and unstable housing, that would have been like ten times worse,” she said.

While the 130 apartments at North Square have been more than 90% occupied since the spring, Gov. Charlie Baker attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday to celebrate the development’s completion.

“Our goal is to create a thriving community,” said Tony Maroulis, vice president of real estate and community development at W.D. Cowls Inc., which owns the land and helped develop the property.

In addition to the apartments, the $47.5 million project includes 22,000 square feet of retail space and 299 parking spaces. Officials broke ground on the project in 2018.

The development is also meant to provide some low-income housing to the Amherst community. Of the 130 apartments, 18 are designated for individuals and families who earn up to about 50% of the area’s median income and eight are designated for families or individuals who earn no more than 30% of the median income, or around $12 an hour. There are currently about 270 people living in North Square.

At the ceremony, Baker spoke about the importance of implementing low-income housing in Massachusetts.

“We have one of the lowest participation rates of people of color in homeownership relative to white people of any place you will find in America,” Baker said. “How could we possibly call ourselves the great, progressive, equitable state that we talk about with numbers like that?”

The project benefits from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which provides a tax incentive for the development of affordable housing.

“Tax credits are one of the main financing engines that makes affordable housing possible,” said Darcy Jameson, the vice president of development at Beacon Communities, which developed the property

The ceremony was also attended by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Mike Kennealy, and Town Council President Lynn Griesemer.

The initiative was a collaboration between the town of Amherst, real estate firm Beacon Communities and W.D. Cowls. It was funded with a combination of local, state and federal money, including a grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“It was truly a public-private partnership with the town taking the lead to develop a master plan for North Amherst,” Jameson said.

The commercial space in North Square is also gradually filling up. The General Store and Hannah’s Local Art Gallery officially opened this week, and Balanced Birch, a Pilates studio, is slated to open in the fall.

Beacon Communities expects to see more of the commercial space rented as COVID-19 cases continue to drop, according to the company.

“I think the future is bright,” Maroulis said.

According to Rob Sadler, a North Square resident, there is also a community of college students who live in the apartments.

“A lot of people in surrounding areas sort of frown on college students and say ‘do you know what you’re getting into by moving to Amherst?’ But I love it, it’s a breath of fresh air, they’re all so respectful,” Sadler said.

The apartments also have sustainable features, including an efficient climate control system, water-saving fixtures and Energy Star appliances.

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