Valley CDC eyes North Amherst parcel for affordable condo development

  • A six-bay garage on the Ball Lane site in North Amherst, the former home of an auto repair garage and trucking terminal, has been demolished. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/28/2022 3:28:13 PM

AMHERST — A North Amherst site long used as an auto repair garage and trucking terminal could be redeveloped for 30 affordable condominiums to be sold to first-time homebuyers, including many who may be racial minorities.

With support from MassHousing’s CommonWealth Builder program, Valley Community Development of Northampton is proposing to redevelop 20-40 Ball Lane, an 8-acre site, and then market the homes to underserved populations.

An initial virtual presentation on the concept was made to North Amherst residents Wednesday evening by Jessica Allan, Valley CDC’s real estate project manager, though she said many of the details are yet to be worked out, and that the land purchase from the Matuszko family of Hadley is not finalized.

“We anticipate acquiring the site from the current landowners by mid-August,” Allan said.

Allan called the development a “unique opportunity,” as it will be able to tap into the rare state funding source. According to the website for the CommonWealth Builder program, it “is intended to spur the construction of single-family homes and condominiums that are affordable to households with moderate incomes, particularly in communities of color.”

According Laura Baker, real estate development director for Valley CDC, North Amherst is one of the only qualified census tracts, or QCTs, in the region, meaning 50% of the households are income-eligible for affordable housing and qualifying the proposed project for the CommonWealth backing. 

The idea, Allan said, is that the homes will be marketed to those who otherwise might not be able to afford to buy properties, and that individuals and families will be able to build equity from owning the homes over a period of years.

Valley CDC understands that Ball Lane is poorly maintained and that access to the site, and whether a new road from Pulpit Hill Road or Montague Road could be built, could be part of the discussion, Allan said. 

The former commercial buildings on the site have been demolished after the Historical Commission determined last year they were not historically significant. No major cleanup of contamination is expected to be necessary, Allan said.

The Amherst Affordable Housing Trust was informed about the project at its July 14 meeting, learning that Pioneer Valley Cohousing, on Pulpit Hill Road, had eyed the site for an expansion.

A flyer was sent to abutters and the plans show that the majority of the planned units would be affordable, with the remaining units to be sold at market rate.

Baker said the single-family home on site, with a tenant, will remain.

Allan pledged to attend the District One Neighborhood Association picnic at Mill River Recreation Area on Sept. 11, where more detailed plans will be shared. Peter Flinker, a principal with Dodson & Flinker landscape architects of Florence, will be creating plans that might include numerous duplexes that will be kept compact so the property contains sufficient open space. A robust marketing plan will follow once the project is finalized.

Carol Lewis, who co-chairs the Amherst Affordable Housing Trust, thanked Valley CDC for pursuing the project.

District 1 Michele Miller said the project is a concept she supports because the housing will help those who have traditionally been left out of the housing market, and therefore unable to build long-term wealth.

This concept of building generational wealth is something the town’s African Heritage Reparation Assembly, which Miller co-chairs, supports, with reparations being another means of addressing this wealth gap.

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

 


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