Guest columnist Eric Broudy: The developer bear can wait

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Please don’t buy Archipelago’s bogus arguments to build another residence, designed predominantly for students, in downtown Amherst.

At the Planning Board’s May 5 meeting, Kyle Wilson of Archipelago Investments LLC, the developer of three multistory buildings in downtown, defended the construction of yet another — a 55-unit, five-story structure with a 1,300-square-foot retail space. This new building would be located between two other “dorms” — Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant — with the following arguments:

■Archipelago builds market-rate apartments like any other builder in Amherst.

■Fifty-three percent of Amherst residents are renters (an indicator of the demand), a growing need that will have to be housed somewhere; we’re providing that housing and filling that need.

■Archipelago’s tenants are good people and go to downtown coffee shops and restaurants.

■Archipelago has added over a million dollars in tax revenue to the town.

Granted there’s a need for student housing in the area. There’s also a need for low- and moderate-income housing, both of which would also supply significant additional tax revenue to the town.

Granted that the vast majority of student tenants are good people who patronize coffee shops and restaurants. As would other, non-student tenants, whose spending in town might well extend beyond coffee shops and restaurants.

The key questions are these: Does Amherst have a responsibility to provide housing for the 40% of the UMass students who aren’t housed on campus? Does this housing need to be Amherst’s prime real estate in the town’s center by a developer seemingly interested only in acting as a real estate agent for UMass? (Archipelago’s comparing Amherst to Berkeley and Durham, North Carolina, are ludicrous.)

How about a developer who will build housing for retirees, or people who work, but can’t afford to live here? This would be the fourth major residential project by Archipelago in recent years devoted, by their own admission, specifically to the student market, carefully designed to avoid triggering the low-income housing imperative.

Please don’t ignore the continual criticisms by Amherst residents of both the purpose and design of these buildings in our downtown. Yes, we want more people downtown, and while the students do constitute a diverse population among themselves, a truly diverse downtown would include housing for low- and moderate-income people, as well as the wealthy, people of all ages and ethnicities — people who will remain in Amherst, participate on its commissions and committees, shop in our downtown, attend our cultural events, and involve themselves in our community.

Developers are like bears, looking for the tree with honeycombs inside. Archipelago has found such a tree in downtown Amherst. Let’s slow this process down until we fully explore what zoning fence needs to be placed around that honey tree. The bear can wait.

Eric Broudy lives in Amherst.