Amherst town officials solicit public input on master plan

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

AMHERST — Five-story apartment buildings built and under construction in downtown Amherst in recent years remain a point of contention for some residents as town officials review the master plan.

While the master plan is not scheduled for required revisions until 2030, based on the town charter that calls for it to be updated every 20 years at a minimum, the Town Council last week held a mandated session for residents to offer input on the document. The current plan was adopted in 2010.

Jeanne Hardy of East Pleasant Street said she worries that the large buildings like Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant are encroaching on sidewalks, making downtown less safe, especially in a time when social distancing is needed.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Ira Bryck of Strong Street.

“There are people who don’t want to lose the small-town feel of downtown,” Bryck said.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup, who presented a primer on the master plan, said it should be seen as a conceptual layout to guide future growth and development. Specifically, the master plan offers directions that include maintaining the existing community character, providing housing to meet community needs, diversifying and expanding the economic base and promoting an ethic of sustainable environmental and energy practices.

But it is zoning that guides what actually is allowed to be built, Brestrup said, adding that a zoning change allowed five-story buildings to go up without special permits for use and the municipal parking district overlay district that developers could use so parking didn’t have to be included with these projects.

Johanna Neumann, a new member of the Planning Board who said she recently read the master plan, said she continues to appreciate the vision it sets forth for the town, especially making Amherst more walkable and bikable while ensuring services are available.

Brian Yellen of Norwottuck Circle said he supports the master plan’s emphasis on higher density of buildings, especially in town center. He would also like to see this continue to be carried out in village centers, noting that Pomeroy Village, where West Street and Pomeroy Lane interest, should be primed for more development.