Amherst Media came a step closer to attaining a Certificate of Appropriateness for the designs of its proposed new headquarters in the Emily Dickinson Historic District on the corner of Main and Gray Streets at the meeting of the Local Historic District Commission (LHDC) on December 2. This certificate was denied them last Spring for a structure modeled after a Dutch Colonial barn with gambrel roof line. Amherst Media then interviewed local architects and chose its abutter, William Gillen, who presented a totally different concept to the LHDC for a public hearing in mid-August, continued to September 9, October 15, and October 22, struggling to find a design that would not only suit their needs but also not intrude on the historic mansions and the Main Street view scape entering downtown Amherst and the cultural district which attracts tourists from around the globe.
Abutters and other members of the public in the room would have preferred the site be left as is, undeveloped. Town Meeting had appropriated funds to purchase the site from a former owner but the State-regulated purchase price did not satisfy the owner. Town Meeting then rezoned the parcel to Neighborhood Business specifically to accommodate the needs of Amherst Media which has the right to build on the site with Site Plan Review which can be regulated by the Planning Board but cannot be denied if the LHDC grants a Certificate of Appropriateness. Jennifer Taub, LHDC Chair, explained: “It is not within the Local Historic District Commission’s purview to determine if a building should be constructed on the parcels owned by Amherst Media. Rather, the Commission’s responsibility is to ensure that if a building is constructed, it be contextually compatible with Amherst’s most historically important neighborhood – the Dickinson Local Historic District”.
Finding issues with the mass, volume and scale of the structure as designed, too close to the sidewalk and blocking the views of the historic mansions among other problems, the Commission at the October meeting gave lots of direction to the Amherst Media board and the architect of what they should do to be in compliance with the Local Historic District Commission criteria. Among the suggestions were to move the building closer to Gray Street, waive some of the required parking, and explore the height and width of the gable ends of the building to show that the roof heights and pitch are compatible with the surroundings. Beautifying the Main Street facade and especially the building entrance was specifically requested. The most important request was for three-dimensional graphics that could “fly” over the site to show how the new structure fit in the existing landscape and topography.
Gillen came to the December meeting with yet another set of plans that addressed these issues and a student who was able to supply the 3-D rendering. After considerable discussion by the Board and the public, Amherst Media was given the go-ahead to proceed with the next phase of filling in the architectural details (window placement and style, pediment ornamentation, building materials, colors, etc.) that determine the character of the building.