Planning Board Recommends That Council Accept Amherst Hills Roads. Plans for University Drive Overlay District Move Forward


Map of Amherst Hills subdivision showing roads that have approved by the Planning Board to be accepted by the town. Photo:

Report on the Meeting of the Amherst Planning Board, February 24, 2024

This meeting was conducted over Zoom and can be viewed here.

Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Jesse Mager, Janet McGowan, Fred Hartwell, and Karin Winter. Absent: Johanna Neumann

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

Amherst Hills Saga Nears Conclusion
The Amherst Hills subdivision, off Station Road, has been trying to have its roads completed since 2018. As Planning Director Chris Brestrup explained, the subdivision was first developed by Jeffrey Flowers, who sold it to Doug Kohl of Tofino Associates in the early 2000s. At that time, it was town policy that the top coat of the roads not be laid down until most of the construction was completed to avoid damage from construction vehicles. However, she said, with the economic downturn of 2008 followed by Kohl’s death in 2010, the subdivision was not completed until 2020, and by then, the base coat on the roads had deteriorated beyond repair.

After several hearings before the Planning Board , Tofino hired Warner Brothers to repair the roads, and they have done so. As per state law, the Town Council asked the Planning Board to recommend whether or not Hawthorne Road, Concord Way, and Linden Ridge Road, not including the small cul de sac, should be accepted as Town of Amherst roads. The Planning Board can make a recommendation, as long as it is within 45 days (until March 21) but does not have to. Instead, it can leave it up to the Town Council. It is worth noting that part of the subdivision is in Belchertown, which has accepted those roads as town roads.

Brestrup said that the residents, the town engineer, and the council support having the roads added to the town’s responsibilities. Planning Board member Janet McGowan visited the site and observed that they were in “excellent” condition. She noted some emerging woody growth in one of the detention basins and said she hopes the developer will remove that growth before the residents’ homeowners association, still being formed, takes over their maintenance.

Planning Board member Bruce Coldham did not think the board should act on this decision, because most board members were not part of the earlier discussions in 2019 and 2020. However, Fred Hartwell worried that if the Planning Board did not make a recommendation, the council could not make a decision on the roads until the 45-day review period was up, which would cause further delay for the residents. Coldham changed his mind, and the Planning Board voted 6-0 to recommend that the Amherst Hills roads become town roads.

Residents John Kennedy, Jonathan Salvon, and Steven Kramer expressed their gratitude to the board.

Overlay Zone for University Drive Is Considered
At previous meetings, the Planning Board determined that University Drive is well-suited for construction of additional residences. However, most of the area between Amity Street and Route 9 is zoned Limited Business or Office Park, both of which greatly limit the density of housing that can be built. To allow a significant amount of new housing to be built there, Senior Planner Nate Malloy has proposed an overlay district along both sides of University Drive that would permit the construction of  five-story mixed-use buildings, as well as loosening the regulations for apartment buildings. He thought the area could provide 1000 to 2,000 new housing units. Under his proposal, the base zoning would remain in place, but a developer could choose to use the conditions specified in the overlay zone. 

The proposed overlay  would eliminate the 24-unit cap on apartment buildings; would require that 10% of the units be three-bedrooms; and would keep, the current requirement that 12% of units be affordable to people earning 80% or less of the Area Mean Income (AMI).  It would also require that  buildings containing 21 or more units include another 8% of the total number of units to be affordable to people earning up to 150% of the AMI. He believes that this would create the workforce housing that many have called for in town. 

For mixed-use buildings, the overlay proposal calls for 50% of the ground floor space and most of the area facing the street to be non-residential. (The Zoning Bylaw requires  only 30%.) 

The proposal also  provides for each building to have “usable open space” and advocates for a multi-use path to be constructed along the west side of the road. It calls for only 0.5 of a parking space for each unit. Malloy noted that the area is close to bus routes, shopping, and UMass.

McGowan stated that members of the board have felt it is important that University Drive continues to serve as a commercial center, and that buildings should not be solely residential. As a result, she felt that all of the buildings should be mixed-use, with both residential and commercial spaces. Karin Winter agreed, as did Coldham. Malloy said that the proposal includes a required minimum distance between apartment buildings, so that in reality, not more than three apartment buildings could be built on each side of University Drive. Nevertheless, several board members felt that it is important to encourage  the “vibrancy” of the area, which could be accomplished by allowing mixed-use buildings but not apartment buildings with no commercial space.

Coldham did not think the 60% maximum building coverage allowed would leave space for enough parking. Malloy replied that if it were up to him, he would not require any parking, but would leave it up to the developers, who would know how much parking each building should provide for. McGowan questioned that, and pointed out that families and working adults living there would need cars and therefore, would need parking.

Board member Jesse Mager noted the amount of wetlands along University Drive, and said that would limit the density of what could be built there. Brestrup responded that all development proposals in the area would need to go before the Conservation Commission to determine their impact on the wetlands.

In public comment, Clare Bertrand and George Ryan said that University Drive is ideal for housing density and suggested that the town look at other underutilized areas that could become overlay zones permitting more units. University Drive is the “perfect place to increase housing and expand the tax base,” said Ryan. Both Elizabeth Vierling and Janet Keller  remarked that commercial use there  should be maintained by requiring mixed-use buildings, with commercial use on the ground floor..

Attorney Tom Reidy, who is the point person for numerous real estate investment partnerships in the area, pointed out that the Planning Board can write specifications for the overlay zone  to give itself discretion to modify the requirements as needed, depending on the site and the specific project.

Planning Board members will review Malloy’s proposal and send comments to him and Chair Doug Marshall. Malloy plans to have local architects create some drawings showing what some buildings might look like, using the proposal’s design guidelines and dimensional requirements. The overlay zone discussion  will be continued at a future meeting.

Dodson and Flinker Beginning Outreach for Downtown Design Guidelines
Dodson and Flinker design firm of Northampton has an 18-month calendar to develop design guidelines for downtown Amherst. They will begin by holding stakeholder meetings with residents, business owners, and planners. Malloy recommended a working group of 25 or 30 people who would meet over the 18-month period to help develop the guidelines. These meetings would be open to the public. There will also be a web page to provide information and collect feedback.

Malloy also announced that the town is updating its Open Space and Recreation Plan. There is an online survey for residents to provide input.

The meeting adjourned at 9:12 p.m. The Planning Board next meets on March 5. 


Spread the love

4 thoughts on “Planning Board Recommends That Council Accept Amherst Hills Roads. Plans for University Drive Overlay District Move Forward

  1. Will someone explain why an overlay district is better for UDrive than rezoning the area?

  2. If Amherst built and owned the housing, the town would have more control and a much better long term income source!

    “Bok and her colleagues realized it’s not that mixed-income projects don’t generate profits — those profits just aren’t 20 percent or higher. Mixed-income affordable housing wouldn’t need to be produced at a loss, Boston leaders concluded, they just might not be tantalizing to certain aggressive real estate investors. By creating a revolving fund and leveraging public land to offer more affordable financing terms, Boston officials realized they could help generate more housing — both affordable and market-rate. ”

  3. There is no way the Town can build affordable housing when we don’t have funds to fix potholes.

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.