Play area needs special permits to stay in Amherst

  • Visitors gather for a groundbreaking at the site of North Square at the Mill District, a mixed-use, mixed-income project featuring 130 new apartments and space for eight to 10 businesses on Cowls Road in Amherst, June 14, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, October 08, 2018

AMHERST — A play area and sandbox that has given children the chance to pretend they are part of building the North Square at the Mill District mixed-use project this summer needs special permits to remain in place.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a hearing Oct. 11 at 6 p.m. at Town Room at Town Hall on an application from W.D. Cowls, Inc. to have the mini job site stay next to the Atkins Farms North Amherst Store’s ice cream window at 113 Cowls Road.

Senior Planner Brandon Toponce said zoning enforcement officials determined that installing the play structures put the property in violation of town bylaws for lot coverage for a nonconforming lot and creating an outdoor recreational use.

A unanimous vote of the three ZBA members will be required, or else the structures will have to be removed, Toponce said.

The mini job site opened in May, prior to Beacon Communities breaking ground on the mixed-use project. It features millstones and rock slabs, model trucks, backhoes and excavators and actual plans for the North Square project.

Plans filed by R Levesque Associates, Inc. of Westfield show the various elements. Toponce said one of the important details was making sure there an accessible path so people can easily get to and from picnic tables next to Atkins.

Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls, said at the time of creating the play area that she and her brother, Evan Jones, had remembered watching her father build Riverside Park on Montague Road and riding on the backhoes when they weren’t in use. She said she felt children excited by big rigs and heavy equipment would enjoy the new attraction.

Cowls also partnered with the North Amherst branch library to host Sandbox Story Time on Monday afternoons over the summer.

The North Square project is continuing to take shape, with buildings beginning to rise on the former site of Cowls’ sawmill.

One element of the project’s commercial space will be a general store, which will be managed by her brother. Jones said the public’s help is being solicited in identifying the type of merchandise that should be available at the business. Jones recently purchased a vintage mechanical coin-operated toy horse that will be an attraction for children to ride while their parents are shopping.

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