Residents air concerns about low-income housing project in Amherst

  • The house at 132 Northampton Road, Amherst, seen from the Amherst College campus. GOOGLE MAPS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2019 9:16:36 AM

AMHERST — A proposed 28-room building that would house extremely low-income individuals, including some transitioning from homelessness, is beginning to raise concerns from some nearby residents about whether the size and scope of the project are right for the neighborhood.

At a Community Resources Committee meeting of the Town Council earlier this month, several residents advised councilors to be cautious about appropriating money to assist in converting a single-family home at 132 Northampton Road into what is known as a single-room occupancy, or SRO, project.

“This is a concerning development,” said Steve George, of 23 Dana St.

George said that the project would be more suitable if it were housing a smaller number of tenants. Having 28 residents on a small parcel with limited open space will likely have impacts on neighboring homes, George said.

Valley CDC is depending on the town appropriating money from the Community Preservation Act account, which will be determined by the Town Council as part of the budget process.

The CPA Committee is recommending that the town borrow $500,000 to support the project, in which each unit will be about 240 square feet and have a kitchenette and bathroom, with the building also including common areas and a provider office.

Valley CDC would be responsible for coordinating ongoing on-site services to the residents, as well as community-based services for the individuals.

The agency will also seek money from the state Housing Innovations Fund and Affordable Housing Trust Fund, both for $1 million, and then a comprehensive permit under the state’s chapter 40B law, which will require a Zoning Board of Appeals special permit hearing.

If all goes according to plan, the construction would begin in April 2021, with occupancy to start in May 2022 and full occupancy to be achieved in July 2022.

John Hornik, chairman of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, said even though Valley CDC is requesting town spending, the appropriateness of the project should not be a matter before councilors, but rather the ZBA when the project comes for review.

Hornik said there is an “overblown fear” of the people who would live at the SRO building, and that if the town backs away from its support, there would be no other places where similar development would be acceptable.

Kate Troast, of 99 Dana St., said such redevelopment of a property should fit into the neighborhood, but having 28 new beds may be too many.

“To me, the size of the structure will be out of scale with its surroundings,” Troast said.

Tim Atteridge, of 143 Northampton Road, whose home is adjacent to the property, said told councilors he is not sure the project fits with the town’s master plan, which encourages such developments to maintain the character of the street.

“I can’t see how it’s going to enhance the character of our neighborhood,” Atteridge said.

Valley CDC brings extensive experience with similar projects, owning and operating four sites with 53 studio apartments in Northampton and Florence. It has also worked in Amherst to create 11 family rental units at 683-687 Main St., completed in 2008, and eight homes on Charles Lane, sold to homeowners in 1996.

Councilors will have to make a decision, as with all spending and fiscal year 2020 budget matters, prior to July 1.

In District 4, Counselor Stephen Schreiber said he and Counselor Evan Ross earlier this week held a district meeting at which they heard both concerns and support for the project. Some of the concerns, he said, included the number of units, the hours of on-site management, the mix of prospective tenants, the distance from bus stops, and the proximity to the college’s playing fields. The support for the project included integrating affordable housing into established neighborhoods, particularly if the housing is for families and will serve both men and women.

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

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