Amherst residents protest 131-unit Aspen Heights apartment building

Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2017

AMHERST — For more than 15 years, Dorothy Canciglia has enjoyed living in a cottage on Greenleaves Drive, a small complex that she says has been peaceful, calm and quiet.

On Aug. 24, Canciglia was one of more than 30 people from Greenleaves Retirement Community in Amherst and Windield Senior and Family Estates in Hadley who attended the latest Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to outline concerns that Aspen Heights, a four-story, 131-unit apartment building proposed to replace the Amherst Motel at 408 Northampton Road, will replace that serenity with noise, crime and traffic.

“I can’t believe all of the comments made by my neighbors haven’t caused this to be thrown out a long time ago,” Canciglia said.

Douglas Colligan, of 14 Greenleaves Drive, who lives in a neighboring cottage, expressed similar worries, noting that an Aspen Heights project in Columbia, Missouri, generated more than 300 police calls in a year.

As the developers seek a special permit, and plan to demolish the 42-unit Amherst Motel, which opened in the early 1960s, they say they are trying to improve the project.

Todd Gaines, vice president of development for the Austin, Texas-based company, said one way to do this is by changing the bedroom mix so fewer undergraduate students will be attracted to live there.

This is happening by reducing the amount of four-bedroom, four-bath apartments, so that the 131 units will have 396 tenants, rather than the 422 tenants in the original proposal.

In addition, Gaines said Aspen Heights is coming to an agreement with the Amherst Housing Authority that would set aside 12 percent of the apartments for so-called workforce housing, with lower rents.

Gaines said market-based rents will be between $1,000 and $1,400 per month for one-bedroom units, $1,800 to $2,000 for two bedroom, $2,700 for three bedroom and mid-$3,000s for four bedroom.

The developers will also provide incentives for families to live there by including a child care area, and one of the two courtyards will be dedicated as a play space for children.

Gaines said Aspen Heights want to be part of the community. “Our lease terms are actually a way to make sure our residents are behaving,” Gaines said.

A designated representative will be on site around the clock.

The project’s architect, Jon Grant, president of GSX Solutions of Maryland, said concerns from neighbors are overstated, pointing to the 2,305 feet of fence that will surround the perimeter of the 8.8 acre property. This fence will also surround the 273 parking spaces and a dog run area.

Grant notes that 222, 8-foot tall evergreens will be planted along the roads surrounding the project to buffer it from adjacent properties.

One of the Zoning Board concerns that remains, though, is how vehicles get into and out of the site.

Jason Adams, a representative of McMahon Transportation Engineers & Planners of Boston, said there is no evidence that the additional vehicles would be substantially detrimental to existing traffic.

But Acting Chairman Keith Langsdale said he is worried that residents traveling west on Route 9 will have limited opportunities to make U-turns to return to the complex, forcing them to drive through private properties to access the traffic lights for the Campus Shopping Plaza.

The hearing on the project continues Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at Town Room at Town Hall.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.