Residents Of The Meadows Decry Conditions Of Their Roads

The Meadows subdivision in Amherst. Photo: Google Maps

Report On The Meeting of The Amherst Planning Board, June 15, 2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here. The meeting began at 6:44 p.m. because Janet McGowan had connection problems, and without her the Board did not have a quorum.

Present
Doug Marshall (Chair), Maria Chao, Jack Jemsek, and Janet McGowan. Absent: Andrew MacDougall, Thom Long, and Johanna Neumann. 

Staff
Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Nate Malloy (Senior Planner), and Pam Field Sadler (Assistant)

Dispute Arises Over Deteriorating Roads In The Meadows Subdivision
Residents of the Meadows subdivision on Hop Brook and Kestrel Lanes were heartened that a solution was found for the residents of the Amherst Hills subdivision for fixing and completing the roads and they appealed to the Planning Board for help with their own roads. Like Amherst Hills, the Meadows was developed by Tofino Associates in the early 2000s. The last home was completed in 2004. Unlike Amherst Hills, the roads in the Meadows were largely finished. However, because of a few uncompleted aspects, the town has never accepted the roads as public ways. In the intervening 18 years, the roads have deteriorated substantially, but neither the town nor Tofino will do necessary maintenance. Doug Donnell, president of the homeowners’ association, said residents met with Tofino representative Ted Parker a year ago and asked that he and the town engineer formulate a punch list of repairs necessary to have the roads accepted by the town, but no action has been taken thus far, and the roads have continued to deteriorate, with catch basins collapsing and potholes opening up. He said the post office has issued a hazard notice. 

Parker explained that he took over management of Tofino in 2010, after the sudden death of founder Doug Kohl, and has been trying to follow up on unfinished aspects of Tofino projects. He said he did not learn about this problem until 2013 or 2014, and that he presented the situation to Kohl’s heirs, but he has been preoccupied with the extensive repairs at Amherst Hills, which have recently been completed.

He added that roads need to be resurfaced every 20 years or so, and the roads at The Meadows are nearing the end of their lifespan. He pointed out that nearby Wildflower Lane has been resurfaced twice since 2004. Now, he said, instead of a few items that have  to be completed, the road repair could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said it has been difficult to communicate with  the town’s Department of Public Works about developing the punch list, and asked whether  the town might accept roads in “less than pristine” condition. He did say that a punch list had been created in 2019, but he did not have access to it at this meeting.

Felicity Hardee, attorney for the residents, said the town was supposed to collect $20,000 for each lot sold to be held in escrow until the roads were finished, but only collected for one lot, so the escrow account now contains only $23,000, probably not nearly enough for the road repairs. The town has not followed up on its failure to collect the additional funds.

The Planning Board decided to resume this discussion at the July 20 meeting, hopefully with Town Engineer Jason Skeels and a representative from the DPW in attendance. Outgoing Planning Board member Maria Chao said that the Amherst Hills situation was the most unpleasant issue she has had to deal with in her two terms on the Planning Board. Planning Director Chris Brestrup said that, unlike with Amherst Hills, the board cannot hold up issuing building permits on unsold lots because  all of the lots in The Meadows have been sold.

Resident Connie Kruger said, “We are not Amherst Hills. We do not want to escalate the situation. We would like to bring in the DPW and determine what needs to be done to have the town accept the roads.”

Parking Concerns Voiced About New Mixed-Use Building At 462 Main Street
In a continuation from the hearing at the May 18 Planning Board meeting, developer John Wrobeleski, along with attorney Tom Reidy, architect Rachel Stevens, and landscape architect Michael Liu presented plans which Liu said are still being revised. In the new plans, the proposed new L-shaped building has been sited further from the existing house on the corner of Gray and Main Street so that the minimum distance between the buildings is 12 feet, rather than 5 feet. Also, the part of the building facing Main Street has been reduced from three to two stories, though most of the building is still three stories. The number of units in the new structure has been reduced from 27 to 23, and the commercial space expanded from 330 to 660 square feet.

Architect’s rendering for 462 Main Street viewed from the south. Photo: Amherst Planning Board

At the suggestion of Brestrup, all three buildings on the site (Center East Common, which was completed in 2021, the historic house, and the new building) will be painted in the same color scheme. All will have the same address of 462 Main Street, with sequential numbering of units. There will be 47 total parking spaces at the site, with 26 being compact car spaces. Parking for the new structure will be angled parking with a one-way exit onto Gray Street. The Main Street entrance will remain two-way. There is one commercial space in each of the three buildings, and all are on the Main Street side.

Taking into account previous suggestions from the Planning Board, the amount of green space around the buildings was slightly increased and the plan now includes constructing  some granite benches from material salvaged from the demolished building at the site.

McGowan expressed concern about the limited amount of parking, stating that it is less than one space per unit. Wrobeleski justified his plans using recent data from the existing building there, which has 16 cars for 35 bedrooms, and also information for the new development at One University Drive South, which has spaces for 26 cars for 40 units. He said that 72% of the cars he has counted during his personal surveys would fit in compact spaces. He also cited the proximity of the site to downtown and a bus route, and on-street parking on Gray Street, as justifications for the small number of parking spaces he is proposing.  McGowan was not satisfied and suggested that arrangements might be made for tenants to use the lot at the Red Barn, across the street in the evenings. However, Brestrup said that this arrangement would require additional permits for the ancillary parking. Jack Jemsek said he is tired of parking being such an issue for every project. He added that “no one on the Planning Board is a parking expert.” and he accepts Wrobeleski’s view of parking needs at this site.

Planning Board Chair Doug Marshall was concerned with the mass of the building. He pointed out the rigorous review that the future Amherst Media Building, across Gray Street from Wrobeleski’s property, had to go through to get approval in the Local Historic District. Wrobeleski said that his site would not appear so imposing from downtown or from the east because it is 10 feet lower than the Amherst Media site. Senior Planner Nate Malloy wondered about noise from the building’s HVAC units, and thought they might be better placed on the roof. Wrobeleski said  new, compact units are quiet, so noise shouldn’t be a problem.

Maria Chao said that the new design looks a lot better than his previous design, and called it “a great collaboration” between the Planning Department, the Planning Board, the neighbors, and the developer. She supports the number of parking spaces shown. Wrobeleski pointed out that the abutters on Gray Street preferred a parking lot next to the lot line as opposed to the multi-story building being built right out to the edge of the property.

The hearing was continued until June 29 at 6:45 p.m. Brestrup pointed out that the three absent Planning Board members will need to certify that they have watched the video of this meeting in order to vote on the project.

Planning Board Approves Changes At Amherst Office Park
Ron LaVerdiere and Clare Bertrand came before the board requesting a plan to rebuild a deteriorating retaining wall at 463 Main Street and to construct a wood composite deck and walkways behind the building. These changes will result in increased lot coverage, so a site plan review was needed. The building is occupied by offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the first floor and four apartments on the second.

The Planning Board had few comments on the changes. LaVerdiere explained that he wanted to provide a place for those working at the site to be able to gather outside, but he didn’t want to impinge on the light coming into the basement windows, so he did not want to increase the size of the deck. He stated that residents could use the deck after business hours. The proposal passed with a vote of 4-0 from the Planning Board members present.

Because the structure had been built before mixed-use buildings were allowed in the Business-Village Center District, it was awarded several special permits. However, zoning has changed to allow mixed-use buildings in this district, so the special permits were extinguished in a unanimous vote.

Permit Fees Raised To $300
At the April 6 meeting of the Planning Board, Brestrup stated that the current $75 fee charged for applications does not come close to covering the actual cost of posting public hearings, which is usually $500 to $600. Board members had suggested charging applicants the actual cost, but the Planning Department realized that this would create considerable staff time to calculate the fee and track down the applicant to collect. Therefore, the department recommended a flat $300 fee, meaning that roughly half the cost would be borne by the applicant and half by the town. The new fees were approved unanimously.

Announcements
This was Jemsek’s last meeting on the Planning Board, though he offered to continue his service on the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission as an alternate commissioner. He will also be on the Solar Bylaw Working Group as a member of the Water Supply Protection Committee.  Board members and staff thanked him for his service.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:18 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for June 29.

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