Mixed-use East Amherst project infringes on right of way, needs OK from council

  • Amherst Town Hall.

Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2020

AMHERST — Before a long-awaited mixed-use project in the East Amherst village center can proceed, the Town Council will have to approve the developer’s use of a town right of way.

But how soon that approval might come is unclear after the council this week referred the application from developer Amir Mikhchi for South East Commons, to be built at 133 and 143 South East St., to the Town Services and Outreach subcommittee for study and a recommendation within 30 days.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup told the council Monday that site plans for the three-story building, with 57 apartments and space for three retailers, were approved by the Planning Board last fall, but building permits can’t be issued until the use of the right of way is resolved.

“In order to get out of wet conditions on site he needs to raise the building pad 3 or 4 feet,” Brestrup said. By doing so the project will enter the public way, she said.

At the same time, Mikhchi is pledging to enhance the right of way with a series of walkways, a bus pull-off and benches.

“It would create a place where people may wish to congregate once COVID-19 is no longer part of our lives,” Brestrup said.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen asked questions about how the right of way would be maintained. Brestrup said Mikhchi would likely sign an agreement with the town to mow the site and keep it in repair, with the town responsible only for taking care of the new lights.

More concerns about the project were voiced by District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam, who questioned the Planning Board’s decision.

“I find the idea of giving a variance from 10 feet on the sidewalk to 3, and having the sidewalk right up against the building and no space on any side, I think that’s not a good design,” Pam said.

District 4 Councilor Evan Ross, though, said the project would be a good use of a public way, and was troubled that councilors would insert themselves in planning decisions.

“It seems like some of my colleagues on the council think that they’ve been appointed to the Planning Board and not to the Town Council,” Ross said.

At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said it should be easy for the council to be in favor of using the right of way, since the project site previously had two small rental homes and the town’s right of way was not evident at that time.

“I look at this and say it’s a vast improvement over the current public way,” Hanneke said.

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