Local Historic District Commission Plans Update Of 2005 Preservation Plan

Home of Robert Frost, 43 Sunset Avenue, Amherst. North Prospect Lincoln Sunset Historical District. Photo: amherstma.gov

Report On The Meeting of the Local Historic District Commission, June 6, 2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded

Judy Strayer (Chair), Jim Lumley, Greta Wilcox, Bruce Coldham, Karin Winter, Peggy Schwartz
Staff: Ben Breger (Planner)

Although creation of more local historic districts was a goal of its most recent revision of the Amherst Preservation Plan in 2005 , members of the Local Historic District Commission were not even aware that the plan existed. Historic Preservation Planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Shannon Walsh, has been retained by the town to update the plan over the next 11 months. The commission discussed what members considered important goals of the revised plan. Staff suggested that perhaps Walsh should start with where we are now in implementing the existing plan, what progress has been made since 2005, and then meet with members of the public and other committees to determine the priorities now–what are the goals and recommendations as to how they can be implemented. This consultant knows Amherst well because she has worked on revisions to the East Village (National) Historic District, the Depot District, and the expansion of the Emily Dickinson Local Historic District, among other projects.

The first suggested goal for inclusion in a revised plan is the expansion of the threatened Sunset/Lincoln/North Prospect local district to the west side of Kendrick Park along North Pleasant Street, essentially to include those parcels that are already in the National Business Historic District. Several members also suggested that underground wiring replace the utility poles, especially along Lincoln Avenue where density of power lines that provide power to UMass seems to be increasing exponentially as the university upgrades its facilities. Also highly recommended were creating maintenance guidelines/requirements for landscaping and structures owned by absentee landlords in particular. A member of the public advocated strongly for the preservation of architecturally significant and irreplaceable interiors of public buildings. The period restoration of the interior of Amherst Town Hall was given as an example.

Above all, a definition of the subjective “appropriateness” is sorely needed in the light of changing technologies. Walsh strongly advised that design guidelines need to be developed to encourage better decisions regarding new construction in all the historic districts as well as any proposed changes to houses of historical or architectural significance elsewhere in town. Members agreed that design guidelines should determine what can be built in an empty lot that is compatible with abutting properties.

46 Sunset Avenue
After a public hearing, a Certificate of Appropriateness was awarded to Amherst College to restore and renovate the exterior of the former Paul C. French House at 46 Sunset Avenue. This 1910 Craftsman style house which was the home of Professor Bruce and Lucy Benson for the past seventy years will become the home of the newly-appointed president of Amherst College. What pleased the commission most is that the college is going over and above what is required by replacing windows in a 1960s addition with divided panes more in keeping with those of the period and replacing only the single pane sash of the older windows as the original woodwork cannot be replicated without destroying the stucco siding.

The Paul C. French House at 46 Sunset Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

Lastly, the commission discussed the need for new members to fill three vacancies. The bylaw requires a realtor, an architect, and a resident of one of the local historic districts to serve on the commission. Questions were raised as to whether the appointee needed the professional realtor designation or if anyone with the appropriate training or license could be eligible. Also, a practicing architect could find him or herself in a conflict of interest situation, suggesting that a retired architect without a renewed license might be a better choice. It was noted that the town seems to be having difficulty finding enough people to fill vacant positions on several town boards.

Exterior renovation design for the Paul C. French House at 46 Sunset Avenue. Photo: amherstma.gov
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