Jennifer Taub: Columnist helps create toxicity with her words

Thursday, April 22, 2021

In Kristin Leutz’s April 16 guest column, “Say no to veto culture,” she wonders why those objecting to five-story student apartments downtown don’t “talk to our BID and Chamber staff ... collaborate for our economy, [and] host conversations about what our future ‘Main Street’ will look like.”

As it happens, many residents have been endeavoring to do just that. My neighbors and I regularly offer public comment urging the Planning Board, CRC, and Town Council to engage with the community to do precisely as Ms. Leutz suggests — have a discussion about what our shared future will look like. We’d welcome the chance to work with the BID and Chamber to help recruit new retail and cultural establishments to Amherst. We’ve expressed our legitimate concerns about new buildings with no set-backs, lack of green space, no affordable units, and interiors designed like dormitory suites. Yet, there are those who label us as anti-development and anti-business, when what we’ve been advocating for is a pedestrian-friendly downtown with a 12-month economy that attracts and sustains customer-serving retail businesses — something which is sorely lacking now.

In most college communities, the role of local government is to regulate student housing, not to aid and abet its expansion, so that it overwhelms the town center and adjacent residential neighborhoods. As part of the building permitting process, it is totally appropriate for a town to ask for something in return — whether it be affordable units, green space, parking, and/or viable space for retail establishments that make downtown an appealing place to live, shop, and visit.

I would also add that many of us advocating for a better “Main Street” aren’t against new schools or the renovation of the library — not that promoting such positions makes one “anti-Amherst.” Sadly, being impugned for one’s opinion is what engenders the very toxicity Ms. Leutz claims to decry. Those of us already living in and around town center wish for nothing more than a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown — a destination for those coming from near and far, whether by foot, bike, bus or car.

Jennifer Taub