AMHERST — A Leverett man who owns property in Amherst is challenging the town’s approval of a $47.5 million mixed-use development in North Amherst, arguing that developers provided insufficient information and that there was limited opportunity for public comment.
Jesse Belcher-Timme, an attorney with the Springfield-based Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy, on March 7 filed an appeal in Hampshire Superior Court to the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals’ unanimous decision Feb. 6 to grant a comprehensive permit to Beacon Communities Development, LLC of Boston to move forward with the $47.5 million North Square at the Mill District project. Plans call for 130 apartments and 22,000 square feet of commercial space on 5.3 acres on Cowls Road.
Filed on behalf of Village Center North Amherst, LLC, the lawsuit asks that the comprehensive permit be annulled, that costs be awarded to Village Center and other relief be determined by the court.
Village Center’s manager is Matthew Corcoran of Leverett. Corcoran owns the plaza at 79-85 Sunderland Road, which abuts the proposed Beacon development. Corcoran’s plaza includes both Watroba’s Liquors and Amherst Antiques, as well as an attached two-story building with 14 apartments.
Named in the appeal are Beacon and the five members of the Zoning Board, including the three who participated in the unanimous vote: Chairman Mark Parent, Yuri Friman and Thomas Simpson.
Belcher-Timme and Corcoran did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Dara Kovel, president of Beacon, said in an email Wednesday that she could not respond publicly to the appeal.
“We’re not in a position to comment given the timing and the nature of the matter,” Kovel said.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he is confident that the Zoning Board of Appeals used due diligence and made a fine decision on Beacon’s application. “The town will review its legal options,” he said. “Clearly, our volunteer members will be defended by the town.”
In addition to the favorable decision on the comprehensive permit, the Select Board agreed to provide Beacon a $2.8 million tax break during the first decade after the project is complete, using a tax incentive program adopted by Town Meeting in 2015.
Town officials have supported the project, which would add a mostly undeveloped parcel to the tax base, meet goals of the master plan that promotes so-called infill development in village centers and add to the town’s affordable housing stock.
Of the 130 apartments, 26 will be set aside for low-income families.
But many neighbors, as well as other concerned residents, spoke out about inappropriate development near historic homes, more than doubling the number of residential units allowed under the current zoning and creating a significant increase in traffic.
In addition to insufficient information and lack of public comment, the court complaint cites concerns about the massing and density of North Square’s building that may overwhelm the nearby neighborhoods that are made up of single-family homes and locally-owned businesses.
Several sections of the complaint focus on the Zoning Board allowing Beacon to construct a new maintenance shed less than 3 feet from Village Center’s property line.
“The ZBA entirely failed to consider or address the unavoidable impact of water being discharged from the roof of the maintenance shed to the property owned by Village Center that is at a significantly lower elevation than the maintenance shed,” the complaint reads.
There are also parking issues identified. The ZBA’s failure to require Beacon to construct sufficient parking spaces for the project will lead to overflow parking in the abutting lot owned by Village Center, the complaint states.
Finally, the complaint questions the Zoning Board process and the “abbreviated timeline and expedited approval of the project, without taking into account the numerous issues facing Village Center and other members of the community, demonstrates clearly the ineffective process and consideration given to the project prior to granting the comprehensive permit.”
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org