The Town of Amherst is for sale. The signs are everywhere. Have you not noticed? That is somewhat surprising, since you yourselves are serving as the agents of this transaction, as you rush to update the zoning bylaw in the midst of a pandemic. And the magic word you’ve chosen for your advertisement is “Density, density, density!” I’m sure the word is already getting out to those who will know how to take advantage of such a boon.
The problem with density is that it is an elastic concept that can mean different things to different people. I doubt that many who advocated for greater density during the Master Plan process would have shed tears of joy had they been shown a future vision of the overpowering and architecturally undistinguished masses that now loom over the northern end of downtown. Yet many of you seem to feel that this is a great thing, despite no concrete evidence that these structures have increased the diversity and vitality of the area, nor have they provided any affordable housing, nor have they done more than the bare minimum to qualify as mixed-use buildings.
And not only do you like the current density in the downtown, you appear to want even more of it, and are seeking to impose it on more and more areas of town. Likely your motives are good, but the ultimate consequences of your actions will put a definitive end to the myth of Amherst as a small and quintessential New England town. In fact, this process has already begun, and the town is quietly slipping out of your control, thanks to what the promise of ever greater density holds for those beyond the borders of Amherst. Were you aware that the principal offices of One East Pleasant, Kendrick Place, and Olympia Place are now located at 444 West Lake Street, Suite 2100, in Chicago, Illinois, rather than at 37 South Pleasant Street in Amherst? And that their SOC Signatories are now Christopher N. Merrill and Stephen M. Gordon, the CEO and CFO respectively of Harrison Street, a global investment management firm that, in its own words, is “focused on alternative real assets” and that manages a portfolio of $29 billion in assets?
On their old website, Archipelago Investments, the architects of these structures, touted Amherst as new and ripe territory for investment and wealth production. It looks like they were correct in their assertion. The push for increased density, in more and more areas of town, should bring the world to Amherst’s doorstep. Except …. at that point, it won’t be our doorstep for long.
Denise Barberet is a former member of the Planning Board, a long-time member of Town Meeting, and a 30-year resident of Amherst. She is also a direct descendant of the Parsons family of Northampton.