Present: Maria Chao, Christine Gray-Mullen, Jack Jemsek, Janet McGowan, Pari Riahi. Absent: Michael Birtwistle and David Levenstein. Staff: Christine Brestrup and Pam Sadler Field

Broadcast Note: Although this meeting was supposed to be live-streamed by Amherst Media, the live feed was not operable during the meeting. Amherst Media was working on the problem and said it planned to air the video on Thursday evening, September 19 and that it will eventually be accessible on YouTube. This report encompasses the first part of the meeting. The remainder will appear in next week’s Amherst Indy.

Apple Brook Cluster Subdivision

The meeting began with a pro forma approval of a revised plan for lot 3 in the Apple Brook Cluster subdivision (south of Atkins Farms) in South Amherst. The new plan moves the location of the conservation and drainage areas around the lot slightly to conform with the drainage on the site. A closing was scheduled for Friday, September 20. This request was approved unanimously.

Bank of America Light Posts
A representative for Bank of America spoke about the new light post bases installed in the parking lot at 360 College Street, where the bank has an ATM machine. There are three other businesses in the shopping strip, Liberty Tax, a new dry cleaner and alterations shop, and a soon-to-open Chinese take-out and delivery service. The appearance was in response to a “cease and desist order” from the Building Inspector. Bank of America had applied for and received an electrical permit for the project but did not know that site plan review was required. In a letter submitted because he could not attend the meeting, Planning Board member David Levenstein objected to the lighting on multiple counts:  first, that there was adequate illumination already; second, that the size of the bases reduce the width of the parking lot, making it difficult for vehicles to back out of parking places; third, that the new lights will add to light pollution in the area and undermine the town’s efforts to make it pedestrian friendly. He requested that the two installed bases be removed.

One of two new light post bases installed by Bank of America at their ATM at 360 College Street. Photo:
View of new light post base at 360 College Street, showing how the bases obstruct parking. Photo:

The bank representative stated that the lights were needed to meet corporate standards for lighting and that the bank had previously obtained an electrical permit for their installation. The matter was continued to the PB meeting on October 16.

133–143 South East Street Development

Discussion of the 62-unit mixed-use building on 133 and 143 South East Street proposed by Amir Mikhchi resumed. Since the previous discussion (September 4), some modifications have been made to the plan. Bike racks and an electric car charging station were added, the 1,200-square-foot retail area was moved to the south end of the structure to make it more accessible for loading and unloading, benches were added to the “circle front” of the building, and the width of the sidewalks was increased to six feet. The developer asked for special permits to modify the front and side setbacks and to reduce the number of parking spaces from the two per unit required by zoning to 68 total spaces for the project, including retail spaces.

The board had several suggestions. Maria Chao suggested more privacy for the first-floor units through shrubbery and differential glazing of the glass. Pari Riahi said that the design is too monotonous and that some articulation of the façade would improve it. The most serious criticisms regarded parking, including the inadequate size of many spaces, making it dangerous for people to walk to and from their car. Four spaces are reserved for handicapped parking and one space for electric car charging, reducing the effectively available spaces to 63. Even if every unit only has one car, there would not  be any spaces for guests. Also, there is no drop-off area at the main entrance for those taking taxis or other transportation to the project. Parking on South East Street is not an option. 

Mark Cavanaugh, a representative from neighboring Florence Bank, spoke in favor of the project as a whole, but worried that residents and guests would use the parking lot for the bank and other businesses. He was also concerned about construction in the tight space between the two properties disrupting business at the bank.

Mikhchi stated that he had brought the basic parking plan before the board several years before and that it had been approved at that time, but Christine Brestrup pointed out that only 47 units had been proposed for the project at that time. Mikhchi pointed out that he donated land across South East Street for a PVTA bus stop to serve the development.

It was suggested that he revise the parking plan to take into account the number of residential units, perhaps reducing the number of units, adding a Zip car, renting some units without parking, or siting the building closer to the road in order to extend the parking area. He will return with a revised parking plan at the October 2 board meeting.

To Be Continued: The remainder of the meeting will be reported in next week’s Indy, including:

Zoning Subcommittee report

Planning Board reorganization and election of officers

Signage at 462 Main Street LLC (Center East Commons);

Apple Brook Cluster Subdivision—re-release of lots

Downtown planning—restarting the conversation

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