Pot shop plans to install murals on North Amherst building 

Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

AMHERST — A marijuana dispensary in North Amherst is commissioning large murals for the exterior of its building on Meadow Street, causing some residents to seek a more thorough review before the art is installed.

The Zoning Board of Appeals at its Sept. 3 meeting determined that the art will not be a significant change to the site and trigger the reopening of its special permit, however.

Ben Sussman, outreach coordinator for Rise Holdings Inc., told the board that the company plans to have three sides of the building, previously used as an auction barn, covered in art inspired by the history and culture of Amherst. The exterior is concrete painted mostly white and gray.

Because its special permit requires any major change in the building at 169 Meadow St. to be reviewed by the Zoning Board, the company sought and received an exception.

“These are not signs, they are going to be murals,” said attorney Thomas Reidy of Bacon Wilson P.C.

The five voting members of the Zoning Board agreed with the idea.

“I would be comfortable with allowing them to go forward, to present the final plan to the building department for their approval,” said ZBA Chairman Steve Judge.

Judge said his only concern would be if any of the imagery included in the art would serve as an enticement for youths to attempt to visit the dispensary. Board member Dillon Maxfield said abutters should be aware of the art before it is approved.

But Hilda Greenbaum of Montague Road said any decision that art doesn’t need to be looked at by members of Zoning Board, or the neighborhood, is a mistake, and that an administrative review is insufficient.

“Some of the things they plan to put there looked like a railroad yard in Harlem,” Greenbaum said. “I don’t want to look at that when I drive by.”

Sussman said the company sees the new art as good for the community. While 10 artists have submitted ideas and interest in doing the painting, none have yet been selected and the illustrations they would complete are unknown.

The art will be selected by a jury that includes company representatives along with others, including Bill Kaizen, chairman of the town’s Public Arts Commission, Hannah Rechtschaffen, director of placemaking for the Mill District and Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.

Only the west side of the building, where deliveries are made, would be left unpainted, Reidy said.

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