Amherst houses slated for demolition in mixed-use development

  • Two Amherst houses, located at 133 South East St., left, and 143 South East St., may be demolished to make way for Southeast Street Apartments.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/MATT BERG

Staff Writer
Friday, March 08, 2019

AMHERST — Two small homes on South East Street in the East Amherst village center are slated to be demolished to make way for a mixed-use building with 48 apartments that has been in the planning stages for about a decade.

Amir Mikhchi of Amherst, the developer who owns both dwellings on a combined 1.26 acres, recently visited the Historical Commission to request that the buildings be removed by Associated Building Wreckers, Inc. of Springfield.

The homes include one built in the “minimal traditional” architectural style around 1937 at 143 South East St., and one constructed in the Cape Cod style around 1953 at 133 South East St.

Because both homes are more than 50 years old, the commission could, under the demolition delay bylaw, impose a year-long postponement on their removal if its members determine former owners or other people associated with the homes, or their architectural styles, are historically significant. Planning Department staff has completed a review of the properties determining no such significance is likely.

The proposed project, called Southeast Street Apartments, would contain the residential units and six units of commercial space in an L-shaped building. On-site parking would also be provided.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said Mikhchi presented plans for the new building informally to the Planning Board last year and could return, possibly in April, for site plan review and any special permits that might be needed. The Conservation Commission is also reviewing the project.

Even if special permits are requested, Brestrup said these will not trigger Amherst’s inclusionary zoning bylaw, which would mandate a certain percentage of the apartments be set aside for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

The site for the new building is in the village center business district, on the west side of South East Street across from Mikhchi’s Amherst Auto Express, and immediately south of the Amherst Crossing complex, which includes a Florence Bank branch and the Amherst Pharmacy.

Meanwhile, up to a dozen public shade trees could be removed from the site, the largest a catalpa measuring 42 inches diameter at breast height.

“All those trees need to be cut down for that project to happen the way Amir (Mikhchi) wants it to happen,” Brestrup said.

The tree removal would allow Mikhchi to create a seating area accessible to pedestrians in the neighborhood, which includes the Colonial Village apartment complex, Brestrup said.

Though the trees were scheduled to be the subject of a joint hearing between Tree Warden Alan Snow and the Planning Board Wednesday, under both the scenic roads and public shade tree state laws accepted by the town, that meeting has been postponed. Brestrup said the hearing can’t happen because the legal advertisement didn’t include information about the location of the trees.

That hearing could be rescheduled to the same evening the Planning Board reviews the rest of the project.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com