Amherst planners receptive to five-story Olympia Place student housing with near-zero parking

  • The site of the former Chi Omega sorority at 47 Olympia Drive has been proposed for a privately owned, five-story, 230-bed student residence with minimal parking, similar to the adjacent Olympia Place apartments. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Friday, December 09, 2022

AMHERST — A new five-story apartment building reserved for college students, to be built on the site of a former sorority house, is nearing approvals from town planners, even though tenants with vehicles will likely need to make their own arrangements for parking.

As the Planning Board takes up a series of findings and conditions for the 68-unit, 230-bed building to be constructed at 47 Olympia Drive, members appear supportive of plans in which only a few handicapped parking spots will be available.

“I think this is the perfect site where we would not require parking minimums,” board member Johanna Neumann said during the board’s Nov. 16 meeting, where a discussion of the project proposed by Archipelago Investments LLC continued.

Neumann said with sheltered bicycle parking at the property and a bus loop going by and, for University of Massachusetts students, proximity to campus, Amherst could join other climate and energy leadership cities and promote the town’s own clean energy and climate goals by not requiring parking. 

“In addition to electric vehicles, we also need to create spaces for people to live where they can drive less and live more,” Neumann said.

Archipelago Principal Kyle Wilson said no agreement is in place with UMass for tenants to be able to use its lots for parking, but that it’s his understanding there was a surplus of campus parking permits available this fall.

There are well over 600 parking spaces within 800 feet of the property, according to information presented to planners.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said the board could set a similar condition to what it did for the neighboring Olympia Place, at 57 Olympia Drive, that requires tenants to figure out their own parking situation. Olympia Place, with 236 beds, opened in the fall of 2016.

Board member Janet McGowan, though, said she wants to protect tenants and ensure them that if they come to Amherst with a vehicle, there will be a place for it to be parked

“If they need parking, they should be able to get it,” McGowan said.

The Olympia Place project has not indicated a need for on-site parking, said Senior Planner Nate Malloy.

“As far as I understand, the town has not heard complaints about Olympia Place,” Malloy said.

Planning Board member Andrew MacDougall said he sees self-corrective action as the best course, noting that if Archipelago can’t get tenants due to the parking issue, it will have to figure out the situation.

“If there’s an issue, Kyle will be the first to know,” MacDougall said.

The Planning Board will resume its discussion on the project Dec. 21 at 6:35 p.m., with a possible vote on the findings and conditions. That meeting takes place a week after the Conservation Commission is scheduled to finalize its oversight of any issues with wetlands on the property.