Guest column Anthony M. Brackett and Robert D. Speiser: Offer on the table to buy Amherst Media lots

  • A rendering of Amherst Media’s proposed building. AMHERST MEDIA

Friday, March 22, 2019

For 155 years, the North side of Main Street, leading into the center of Amherst, has provided a view of four houses, originally the homes of William Austin Dickinson, his parents and sister Emily, Leonard Hills and Henry Hills.

This streetscape was the composition of William Fenno Pratt, whom Edward Dickinson commissioned to design his son’s house in 1856. Henry Hills hired Pratt to design his house in 1863, and Hills’ father, Leonard, gave Pratt the opportunity to complete the row in the following year.

This completed the exceptional row of homes that has greeted westbound travelers to Amherst since the time of the Civil War.

Construction of the proposed Amherst Media facility on the western end of their Main Street property would have several repercussions. Despite the description of the building as being “on the corner of Main Street and Gray Street,” the actual proposal calls for the building to be constructed on the western end of Amherst Media’s property, one lot east of the corner.

Pratt’s composition, comprised of the historic group of houses, will no longer be visible from the street because the easternmost house will be obscured. Contrary to Amherst Media’s original claims, which were made to induce 2013 Town Meeting to change zoning for the lots, the row of houses on Gray Street will not be extended. Instead, the gateway to the Dickinson Historic District will now be marked by a parking lot.

We understand that the decision to locate parking there rather than on the western lot was influenced by the advice of Amherst Community Television’s engineer. He advised that in view of water problems on their property, construction will necessitate an underground containment system under the eastern part of the property.

Amherst Media itself has asserted in various court pleadings pertaining to Amherst Community Television vs. Gerald G. Guidera Jr. that the lots that they own at Main and Gray streets are not buildable. And yet they propose to build.

In the interest of full disclosure, we should mention that in order to resolve these problems, we have offered to buy those lots, to eliminate the possibility of construction in front of the Henry Hills house (redesignated 38 Gray St.), in which we live.

Without going into detail, when we made our offer (the last time we checked), there were 22 undeveloped lots being offered for sale in Amherst, according to Zillow.com. The average per acre price of these lots is $20,184. The most expensive of these lots (per acre) is $269,231. (And this is for a buildable lot.) At that rate, Amherst Media’s two parcels, which total 0.56 acres, would be worth $150,769.36. We have offered $260,000 ($464,285 per acre), more than a 70 percent premium above the price of the most expensive acreage on the market, so that we can get this transaction done quickly and move on with our respective plans.

Should our offer be successful, our intention would be to restore trees that historically stood in front of 38 Gray St.. Three enormous stumps remain on Amherst Media’s property as reminders of the enormous beeches that were once there. These trees were not only decorative; they helped soak up some of the water that has always been a problem as it cascaded down the hill from as far north as Wildwood Cemetery.

We are also willing to commit to retaining some or all of the eastern part of the property as a garden or park for the town of Amherst.

This proposal would avoid the adverse consequences to us and our neighbors, and would enable Amherst Media to move forward in a more favorable location which would not require expensive design details or construction of an underground containment system.

The town of Amherst would benefit by preserving the historically significant view of the Henry Hills house and from the assurance of green space at the corner of Main and Gray streets, an entrance to both the Dickinson Historic District and the Amherst Center Cultural District.

As of this writing, Amherst Media has not addressed our proposal.