Guest columnist Nancy Gilbert: Why Amherst needs a construction moratorium

  • Amherst Town Hall

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

I have lived in Amherst for over 35 years and in Hampshire County for 47 years. I have watched the many changes in Amherst and the surrounding towns for over four decades.

I remember when downtown Northampton was a ghost town with empty storefronts, a closed department store, and when parking was possible directly in front of whichever establishment one would like to shop. At that same time, Amherst was a bustling community, with a vibrant downtown, even a grocery store.

At that time people left “Hamp” to shop in Amherst and at the one mall in Hadley — a far different picture from today. Change is inevitable. I am concerned about the change that may happen in Amherst where the north end and central part of downtown turns into student housing and the surrounding neighborhoods fall to multihousing units.

I virtually attended the first part of last week’s Town Council meeting and listened to all the comments. I have read the articles in the paper. I urge the Town Council to support the moratorium for town zoning changes and building permits.

There was a moratorium in 1986 while Amherst Woods and other developments were being either built or planned. The town did not want to change its rural nature. Many in town continue to want to save the rural nature. I do not negate this desire. However, I do not want to turn downtown Amherst and its surrounding neighborhoods into student housing. I lived in Alston during my student days. I do not want to see downtown Amherst become an Alston/Brighton student enclave.

I read news reports about our town’s much-needed new fire station and Department of Public Works building. Amherst College has offered the town a 27-acre parcel on South East Street as a 99-year lease for $1. This was rejected because “residents who live nearby raised objections to the DPW’s possible presence in the neighborhood.” I find this interesting and not necessarily in the town’s best interest.

Another interesting point is the fact that of the seven Planning Board members, only one lives in town near the middle school. All other members live out of the downtown area on fairly protected (from development) pieces of property. I would have no problem with a low-income family apartment building being built on East Pleasant Street across from Kendrick Park, with adequate parking provided. This would be an ideal location for families. They would be close to a park, schools, the library and other community services, including Musanti Health Clinic, and public transportation would be close at hand with several PVTA bus stops near-by.

The proposed building to be built on that site does not provide adequate parking. The town is building a lovely playground in Kendrick Park. Without adequate parking, who will use the park? Will the park become a hangout place for the students who live in the new East Pleasant Street buildings and all the rental properties across from the park on North Pleasant Street?

I urge the Town Council members to:

1. Support the minimum of a six-month moratorium on permitting new construction downtown.

2. Insist that all new construction provide adequate parking for residents.

3. Appoint people who live in the downtown neighborhoods to the Planning Board so representation is balanced.

Nancy J Gilbert lives in Amherst.