Amherst zoning board approves affordable housing project

  • The house at 132 Northampton Road will be demolished as part of a plan to build a 28-apartment affordable housing project next to Amherst College athletic fields. STAFF PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

AMHERST — More than 18 months after it acquired the property, and following nearly 30 hours of hearings, Valley Community Development’s proposal to bring 28 affordable studio apartments to a site next to Amherst College’s playing fields is another step closer to reality.

At its 10th meeting on the $5 million project, five members of the Zoning Board of Appeals at the Oct. 29 session voted unanimously to issue a comprehensive permit to the Northampton-based affordable housing developer under the state’s chapter 40B zoning law.

The panel’s approval for use of the 132 Northampton Road site, where an existing single-family home will be torn down, includes 89 conditions, from the income eligibility for residents to the property lighting and landscaping, as well as a series of waivers from requirements related to matters such as the number of apartments, the amount of parking and setbacks.

In addition, the board is asking that 70% of the units be set aside or marketed to local residents, though that condition will depend on approvals from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, one of the main funders for the project.

Zoning Board Chairman Steve Judge praised the process that led to the approval. “It responds to an urgent need for affordable housing in our town that needs to be met,” Judge said.

Valley Community Development’s plans show a 2½-story building with 28 single-room occupancy apartments, which average 245 square feet in size, each with a kitchenette and bathroom.

With the vote, Senior Planner Maureen Pollock, who spent significant time preparing the board for the project, and Planning Director Christine Brestrup, will write up the decision. Once filed with the town clerk, a 20-day appeal period begins.

Brestrup said town officials have endorsed the project as meeting pent-up demand in Amherst.

“The ZBA did a great job of carefully evaluating the proposal and a good job of asking questions to the applicant,” Brestrup said.