Planning Board Grants Permits For Private Dorm On Mather Drive

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Architects rendering of courtyard of proposed new private dorm at Mather Drive. Photo: amherstma.gov


Report On The Meeting Of the Amherst Planning Board, December 21, 2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

Present
Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Karin Winter, Thom Long, and Johanna Neumann. Absent: Janet McGowan and Andrew MacDougall

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

Archipelago Investments Gets Permits For Private Dorm
The construction of a private dormitory at 47 Mather Drive (formerly 47 Olympia Drive) zoned Fraternity/Sorority Park near the UMass campus had been discussed at previous Planning Board meetings since first presented in August 2022 (see also here and here). The developer, Archipelago Investments, is still in conversation with the Conservation Commission regarding building coverage in the wetlands buffer zone in excess of the allowed amount. The Conservation Commission planned to require that Archipelago pay a mitigation fee that would go into the town’s wetlands restoration fund, but had to cancel its meeting on December 14 due to lack of a quorum. Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacques told the Planning Department that determining the amount of the mitigation fee would not present a problem to the project going forward. The Conservation Commission meets again on January 11. 

The major controversy with the project is that Archipelago has requested a total waiver of parking requirements, arguing that residents who own cars can obtain permits from UMass to park in the university lots adjacent to the building, as do residents of its other private dorm at 57 Olympia. Planning Board member Bruce Coldham said he was concerned that parking from the residents would spill over into the parking lot at Olympia Oaks, the affordable housing complex nearby operated by Wayfinders. In public comment, Renata Shepard said she is opposed to the parking waiver because it is unreasonable to expect that few residents of the building will have cars.

However, Coldham spoke to Wayfinders CEO Keith Fairey, who said there have been no problems with 57 Olympia Drive parking at Olympia Oaks, and he has no concerns that the new building would present a parking problem. Coldham added that he realizes that the building lots on Olympia and Mather Drives were designed expressly for housing only, with parking provided on a separate lot, a condition that does not apply in other zoning districts.

Coldham also noted that he had originally requested that Archipelago provide indoor bicycle storage, but he has since learned that the batteries of some electric bicycles can catch fire, so it is not a good idea to store them indoors. He and Karin Winter did speak for covered bicycle storage, but Kyle Wilson of Archipelago said that putting a cover on the planned cement pad may make the building exceed the allowable lot coverage.

Extensive conditions and findings about the project were reviewed at the meeting (see also here). The special permit for additional height and building coverage and the site plan review were approved with a 5-0 vote. Archipelago will need to return to the Planning Board with final plans for signs and lighting.

Coldham and Winter wanted it to be noted in the decision, either as an addendum or a finding, that the waiver of parking was due to the location of the building in a Fraternity/Sorority Park and does not apply to projects in other zones. Thom Long, however, felt that the board should not have to “justify” its decisions to the public. Chair Doug Marshall felt the discussions of this subject at the many Planning Board meetings are reflected in the recordings and minutes and do not need additional clarification. Planners Nate Malloy and Chris Brestrup will draft a statement possibly to include in the findings. The Planning Board will decide whether or not to include it in the decision at the January 4 meeting..

Cement Blocks At Hall Drive Marijuana Facility Can Remain With Modification
In November, Jonathan Gurfein of Riverside Organics, a marijuana cultivation operation at 555 Belchertown Road, was asked to modify the large cement blocks he placed at the entrance to the driveway and next to the building so that they were more visible and more attractive. He responded by placing two reflector poles on each of the blocks. Gurfein said the blocks are necessary to discourage people from parking cars and littering on the driveway and to protect the greenhouse from inadvertent damage from vehicles at the site.

The Planning Board noted that the blocks were not placed according to the site plan approved in 2020, and are still unattractive. The board wanted the blocks painted with red and white stripes to make them more visible. Johanna Neumann suggested that Gurfein post a sign at the entrance to the driveway indicating that it is private property and no trespassing is allowed. He agreed to the paint and the sign, and said he will also speak to Kuhn Riddle, the architects of the project, about getting an accurate rendering of the locations of the cement blocks.

The Planning Board agreed that the above actions represented minimal changes to the original permit, and hence did not require a new public hearing.

Planning Department Has Two Open Positions
With the recent departure of planners Ben Breger and Maureen Pollock, the Planning Department has only Brestrup and Malloy remaining as full-time planners. Brestrup said the positions are posted, and the town hopes to fill them soon. Breger now works for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and Pollock will begin as the Planning Director for Montague.

The meeting adjourned at 9:32 p.m. The Planning Board will next meet on January 4.

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