Second Private Dorm Proposed For Olympia Drive

Architect's rendering of 47 Olympia Drive from Olympia Drive. Photo: Amherst Planning Board

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, August 3, 2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. The packet can be viewed here. The recording can be viewed here.

Board members: Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Thom Long, Andrew MacDougall, Janet McGowan, Johanna Neuman, and Karin Winter

Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director) and Pam Field Sadler (Assistant)

This was Karin Winter’s first meeting since being appointed to the Planning Board. She introduced herself to the rest of the board.

Plan For a Second Five-Story Dorm On Olympia Drive Presented
Kyle Wilson and Dave Williams of Archipelago, Inc. presented preliminary plans for a five-story private dormitory at 47 Olympia Drive at a site previously occupied by the Chi Omega sorority. In 2016, the company completed a similar project at 57 Olympia Drive. The area also contains the UMAss Mather Building and Olympia Oaks, an affordable housing complex managed by Wayfinders. Planning Board Chair Doug Marshall disclosed that he is employed by UMass and filed the potential conflict of interest forms with the town, but he felt he could evaluate the project fairly.

The proposed new building will contain 68 dwelling units each containing bedrooms, a bath, and kitchen. It will be rented by the bedroom to about 230 UMass students. Since occupancy is limited to student, the town’s inclusionary zoning bylaw does not apply. There will not be any affordable units.

The design proposed has two residential wings with a connector and courtyard between. The building will be wood clad and have solar panels and heat pumps on the roof. The only fossil fuels used on the site will be propane to power the emergency generator. Wilson noted that the solar panels will only be able to provide a fraction of the total energy needs of the building. The remainder will be electric with the electricity purchased through green energy sources.

Archipelago has requested a special permit for building height and lot coverage and a waiver for parking. The building is one foot eight inches higher that the 55 feet allowed by zoning. It also covers 0.35% more of the 45% of the lot allowed. There are five UMass parking lots in the vicinity containing 635 total spaces. Wilson noted that many residents of 57 Olympia Place purchase UMass parking permits, and he expected that the residents of the new building would do the same, although he was unsure if those lots could accommodate the cars from the new tenants as well. There are three PVTA bus stops nearby, providing transportation throughout town.

The site is bordered on the east by the Wildwood Conservation area. Some of it is in the 100 foot buffer with the wetlands, so it will require review and approval by the Conservation Commission. Approval is also needed from the Fire Department and Town Engineer. All stormwater will be collected on site.

The Planning Board requested more information on the adequacy of parking at the site, since no new parking spaces will be added for the tenants of this building. They also felt a new traffic impact study was needed to update the one done in 2016. Board member Janet McGowan requested that Archipelago solicit input from the residents at neighboring Olympia Oaks who will be abutters of the proposed project. Andrew MacDougall wanted clarification of accessibility on the sloping site. Marshall suggested that there be a drop-off site in front of the building, since handicapped parking spaces were located across the street. Karin Winter stressed the need for secure bicycle storage which was not included on the preliminary plans. McGowan was also concerned that, unlike 57 Olympia, there will be no on-site manager or residential advisor at the new site. She wanted to see the detailed management plan.

The hearing was continued until September 21, at which time there will hopefully be feedback from the Conservation Commission, Fire Department, and Town Engineer, as well as the information requested by the Planning Board.

Sign For Papa John’s Pizza At Big Y Plaza
With little discussion, the Planning Board unanimously approved a sign for Papa John’s Pizza which is opening in the former SuperCuts site at the Big Y Plaza. The permit for the shopping center requires review of all changes in signs. The proposed Papa John’s sign will be the same size as the SuperCuts sign. Papa John’s will also be listed on the monument sign at the entrance to the parking lot.

The meeting adjourned at 9:24 p.m. The next meeting will be on August 17.


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1 thought on “Second Private Dorm Proposed For Olympia Drive

  1. As proponents of the expanded Olympia Drive project seek waivers from the Amherst Planning Board other aspects of the zoning bylaws under its jurisdiction, it’s disappointing that a project like this can skirt the spirit (if not the letter) of the Town’s inclusionary housing bylaw — a law intended to enhance the availability of much-needed affordable housing in a community dominated by (apparently very profitable!) student housing.

    As noted in Maura’s article, this project is also subject to review under Town of Amherst and Commonwealth of Massachusetts conservation laws, so public participation at future Amherst Conservation Commission hearings would also be valuable (with good coverage by the Indy): there, crucial environmental determinations will be made and “orders & conditions” issued — a few additional appeal opportunities may exist at the Commonwealth Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) level.

    Although this proposed project seems to avoid direct wetlands impacts, mulling over the parallel roles the Planning Board and Conservation Commission have in regulating projects like this, it occurs to me that our inclusionary zoning bylaw lacks a provision that would parallel* an exceptional conservation law provision.

    Here’s the lacuna, and a question that it raises: While we might think it unwise to incorporate affordable units for the general public into the same building or site for a large student housing project, why doesn’t our inclusionary zoning bylaw have similar requirements for developers of student housing to “replicate” (build, or convert, or fund) additional affordable units at other project sites in Amherst?

    In this way, the (some of) the profits from building these lucrative student housing projects would be reinvested in the community where it’s most needed.

    [*This would be the zoning bylaw parallel to the exceptional conservation law provision for a compelling project that requires a disturbance of wetlands to be remediated via “2-to-1 replication” — at least 2 square-meters of wetland must be “replicated” for each square-meter disturbed; often this “replication” takes place on-site, but sometimes, for high-impact projects with limited space (like public utility corridors) it’s done off-site.]

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