Design Review Board Weighs In On Five-Story Mixed-Use Building Proposed for East Pleasant Street

Architect's rendering of 11-13 East Pleasant Street. Top: front of building. Bottom: view from North. Photo: amherstma.gov

Report On The May 10 Design Review Board Meeting

The meeting was held via Zoom and was recorded.

Present:
Members: Catharine Porter (Chair), Lindsay Schnarr, Thom Long, Erika Zekos, and Janet Marquardt
Staff: Christine Brestrup, Maureen Pollock (Town Planners)

Presentation of 11 East Pleasant Project 
Kyle Wilson, Principal of Archipelago Investments, gave the presentation with David Williams available for comment. Additional materials and the full application packet can be found on the Planning Board website in their packet for May 5, 2021 [starting on page 27 of 139] 

The proposed mixed-use building has a 1,400-square-foot retail space at the front along with a lobby and elevator to the upper floors. There is a “pass through” behind the retail space which separates the front of the building from the rear section containing a fitness room, rental office, and parking for about 16 cars. The four upper floors would have 55 apartments of various sizes. The south side of the building adjacent to One East Pleasant will have a row of Armstrong maple trees and red twig dogwoods leading back to the West Cemetery.

The site of the former Pub Restaurant, 15 East Pleasant, will serve as a fenced-in staging site for construction materials and trailer. Entrance to that area will be from Pray Street. According to Wilson, Archipelago has no plans for development of this site at present, but does not rule out future construction.

Schnarr and Porter voiced concern about the effect of shading from the two large buildings and the row of trees between them. Zekos asked about the decision to have such a small retail space, but Pollack interrupted to tell the DRB to stay focused on the external aspects of the building in its purview. Wilson said that the angle of the wall under the walkway draws residents of the building around the corner to the lobby, while the public is encouraged to approach the front.

Porter said that the proposed design sets the retail away from the sidewalk under a dark, cantilevered overhang, to the disadvantage of the retailer, but Wilson said they decided not to put the glass right at the sidewalk. He did not say whether there would be room for benches or other amenities on the sidewalk in front of the building. 

Marquardt liked changes in the material between the two walls and felt it was a more sophisticated design than One East Pleasant. She had concerns about the five floors, but this is allowed in the zoning bylaw.

In answer to a question by Long, Wilson acknowledged that the height of the proposed building is 57 feet, two feet higher than allowed by the zoning law (which would necessitate a Special Permit and trigger the Inclusionary Zoning bylaw, requiring the creation of 10 percent affordable units).

Long also commented that from Pray Street, the building looks like an unbroken, massive wall. He felt that the north façade should have an indentation or material change to break it up. Zekos agreed.

Williams responded that One East Pleasant has a courtyard with a view to the cemetery and that “no one driving to UMass will care what they see.” Marquardt said that what they see will affect how Amherst appears to them. Wilson said that this section of town is a “wonderful opportunity” for creating more density.

Schnarr liked the bollards on the north and appreciated the parapet providing a screen for the rooftop mechanicals. Brestrup commented,You should be aware there is some room to make the parapet wall higher; it does not count as building height. Section 6.172 allows height when not intended for human occupancy.”  

Author’s note: see Zoning Bylaw 6.170 regarding height measurement: In all districts, the minimum or maximum height of a building shall be measured as the vertical distance from the average finished grade on the street side of the structure to the highest point of the roof for flat roofs, to the deck line for mansard roofs, and to the average height (midpoint) between the highest eaves and ridge of the main body of the roof for gable, hip, shed, saltbox, and gambrel roofs, or combinations thereof. 

For reference, here is the full text of 6.172: 
6.172 Height limitations shall not apply to chimneys, spires, cupolas, TV antennae and other parts of buildings or structures not intended for human occupancy. Towers, antennae, panels, dishes and other such structures attached to a building in association with commercial and public wireless communication uses shall not exceed the maximum height of said building, as above defined, by more than ten feet. Related electronic equipment and equipment structures shall not exceed the maximum height. For towers and other such free-standing structures associated with wireless communications uses, the provisions of Section 3.340.2 shall apply and prevail.

Note – all examples listed in 6.172 are free-standing, single structure elements. Parapets, on the other hand, define space, and although are not intended for human occupancy, do establish and are perceived as part of the length of the visible, exterior wall; they are perceived as part of the building height. Mechanical equipment screens (penthouses) do not count as building height, but they are typically set back from the edge of the building and are not a visual continuation of wall length. See the graphic representation above of how to measure a flat roofed building. The 11EP’s PR2.00 drawing B3 as attached, indicates proper measurement to top of parapet. One more inch of height and Inclusionary Zoning will be in effect for the provision of 5-6 Affordable Dwelling Units. 

Porter wondered how the cedar siding would hold up over time. Wilson said that the Cambridge Fogg Museum used this product with a water-based stain that ages gracefully without needing restaining. Porter also wondered about the parking plan — how many tenants were expected to own cars and where they would be directed to park. Wilson answered that it is important to create more housing downtown, and the design tries to balance retail and parking on the ground floor. He did not respond to Porter’s concerns.

Public comment
Pam Rooney asked about the streetscape. She noted there is a strong “language” established on North Pleasant Street up to the Toy Box, but it is truncated by One East Pleasant where the sidewalk narrows. She hopes the streetscape will be reinstated with plantings and furniture to the north where this project is proposed.

Mary Sayer countered Williams, saying that people do care about what they see coming into town. They do give a damn about the appearance of the Town. 

Suzannah Muspratt wondered where the snow from the building would go. Wilson said, “We’ll make it happen.” 

Porter asked if Archipelago was prioritizing what business would be appropriate for the retail space. Wilson replied that they need to be conscious of the fit. Williams said that an insurance office would not enliven the town. He also said that the busiest section of Town is at Judie’s, then it dissipates by the time one gets to the Toy Box.

Planning Board member Janet McGowan, speaking as a resident, said she hopes the DRB will discuss the design standards, as they apply to this project, one by one, and how this building fits into the goals of the Master Plan. 

At the next DRB meeting, on May 26, Archipelago agreed to provide photometrics of the proposed lighting and its plans for 15 East Pleasant. The Board also requested more details on the pedestrian area on the southwest corner of the building near One East Pleasant and on the egress behind the building. They want to see renderings of the view from Pray Street and the view from the Triangle Street roundabout at eye level. They also plan to go through the design standards one by one. These materials will be placed in the DRB packet by May 19.

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