×

Revised plans for Amherst Media HQ get mixed reviews

  • Renderings of the new plans for Amherst Media’s headquarters. Courtest of Gillen Collaborative Architects



Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

AMHERST — A new design for Amherst Media’s future headquarters that aims for a better fit with the homes and commercial buildings in the Emily Dickinson Local Historic District is receiving mixed reactions.

At a Local Historic District Commission meeting last week, those who live near the proposed project site at the corner of Main and Gray streets expressed concern that the 1½-story building, designed by Gillen Collaborative Architects and featuring a peaked roof, covered porches and clapboard siding, is still not appropriate and would compromise a historic greenspace.

Though the commission put off a decision until its meeting on Sept. 9 at 4:45 p.m. at Town Hall, commissioners appeared closer to supporting the issuing of a certificate of appropriateness for the project — a necessary step before it can go before the Planning Board for review — than they had been at their March meeting.

Amherst Media oversees the public access, educational and government television channels for the town and broadcasts numerous public meetings and local programs. But it has been facing eviction from its longtime home on College Street, a building owned by Eversource.

The new building no longer has a barn-like appearance, which had come under criticism.

“Many excellent changes made from the previous proposal,” said member Jim Lumley.

Commission member Karin Winter said she is confident Amherst Media is nearing a solution, even though Gillen should continue to tweak the plans.

Commission member Bruce Coldham, who is an architect, said there had been a “huge distance traveled” since the March meeting. Still, he asked that Gillen return with a design that reflects both the site’s urban and pastoral settings. The side facing Main Street doesn’t take any cues from nearby businesses, such as the former Lumberyard restaurant, he noted.

Other members asked for changes to include a more prominent and welcoming entrance from Main Street.

Maurianne Adams said this is essential so those who walk and bike to the location will not face a “forbidding, uninviting exterior.”  Peggy Schwartz suggested that the entrance could take its cue from the Victorian style of the Henry Hills House and the Amherst Woman’s Club.

For those who live nearby, the new design still was inadequate.

Robert Speiser, who lives at the Hills House, the historic mansion at the top of the greenspace, said Amherst Media disregarded its neighbors by failing to mow the lots on which it wants to build the new headquarters. The community alshould be worried about Amherst Media’s long-term health due to its subscriber base declining, he said.

“If this building is built, it will create problems that cannot be undone,” Speiser said, adding that he is also nervous about the building becoming empty after opening.

Jessica and Eric Wilkinson, who live at a neighboring Gray Street home, said the new building, at 32 feet high, is still too high and overwhelming. They asked the commission to vote against issuing a certificate of appropriateness.

Felicity Hardee, an attorney representing Hills House owners Speiser and Anthony Brackett, told the commission that the design should fit in with its surroundings and that many in Amherst will be disappointed if the historic viewshed is compromised.

Demetria Shabazz, president of the board for Amherst Media, said she appreciates the commission’s guidance and said that Amherst Media, which has been in existence for 43 years, will continue to serve the community for many more. 

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com