Historical Commission Approves Adaptive Reuse Of 197 South Pleasant Street As Academic Center

197 South Pleasant Street was approved for conversion to an academic building. Photo: Google Maps

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Historical Commission (1/27/21)

The meeting was held as a Zoom webinar and was recorded.

Present:  Commissioners Jane Wald, (Chair). Jan Marquardt, Pat Auth, Robin Fordham, Hetty Startup , Jane Sheffler, Robin Fordham. (Jane Wald recused herself from the public hearing with Jan Marquardt as acting Chair.) Staff: Planner Ben Breger

Public Hearing On Amherst College Academic Building
“To achieve its vision for curricular and pedagogical innovation, Amherst must create a home for the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Center for Writing and Speaking. The property at 197 South Pleasant St. will be renovated to serve as a welcoming, professional space in which faculty, students and staff may do intellectually challenging work.” 

To make way for the Center for Teaching and Learning and Center of Writing and Speaking, two public hearings were held to allow 197 South Pleasant Street to be converted and re-used as an academic building and to lift the demolition delay placed on the abutting 205 South Pleasant Street. A one-year demolition delay was placed on the house at 205 South Pleasant Street on May 28, 2020 with the hope that a buyer will be found who will move and preserve this historic house at another location.

The Amherst owner and developer has agreed to move the structure to land he owns on Baker Street just south of a mixed use building on the corner of Route 9 and University Drive South soon to be constructed. The house will front on Baker Street. 

What is known as “The President’s Mother’s House” at 197 South Pleasant Street is thus an important historical house in the distinctive Greek Revival style and part of an historic streetscape will be preserved and integrated into the new construction. The fifty year old deck and three-story addition to the West, built essentially to accommodate bathroom plumbing for three apartment units, were deemed not historically significant, and their removal enhanced the character of the house. The Board was pleased to vote to allow the demolition of the deck and clapboard addition to allow the adaptive re-use of the historic house which is currently unoccupied.

Demolition Delay Bylaw
Jane Wald returned as Chair the Commission to continue the discussion of details of their proposed Demolition Delay bylaw. Town staff had reviewed the work and made several suggestions for its improvement.  Most of the comments related to further refining definitions of what is “demolition,” how will the bylaw be enforced, how can decisions be appealed, etc. The building commissioner on reviewing an application for either demolition or construction decides whether the project needs approval from the Historical Commission before granting a permit and this or any future building commissioner needs standards and guidelines that are clear and unequivocal.

Next steps are to hold a public hearing on the bylaw before a Town Council vote to adopt it as a General Bylaw of the Town. A general bylaw requires a majority vote of the Town Council and will be easier for an applicant than the requirements and processes of a zoning bylaw.

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