A proposal for a 75-unit apartment complex on Olympia Drive, called Olympia Place, is undergoing approval from the Amherst Planning Board.
On Aug. 21, Dave Williams and Kyle Wilson of Archipelago Investments presented the proposal for the five-story complex. According to documents from the meeting, Williams explained how Archipelago Investments developed Boltwood Place, a new multi-use building in downtown Amherst, for which they had received over 700 inquiries for 12 apartments. Williams stated this shows a desire in Amherst for more urban living in the downtown area. Williams also noticed a greater desire from students for complex-style housing rather than single-family homes.
Located off East Pleasant Street near the UMass Police Station and Amherst’s North Fire Station, Olympia Drive was once referred to as Fraternity-Sorority Park. The lot is currently home to the Sigma Epsilon house. Project plans propose to tear down the building to create space for Olympia Place. Utilities including power, water, sewer and a pump station are on site and are available for use by the new development.
Each unit would have one small kitchen and two small bathrooms. There would be singles, doubles and four bedroom units. There would be a ground floor with common areas, library space, vending machines, mail facilities, classrooms and an entrepreneurial space providing laptop outlets and serving as an office.
Providing parking on site will not be possible, but the University of Massachusetts owns 625 parking spaces that are located within an 800-foot radius of the proposed area. There will be access to three PVTA bus routes on site and at least 100 bike racks are being proposed in order to promote alternative transportation. Wilson referenced UMass’ North Apartments and the UMass Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community as examples of apartment-style dorms developers aim to build.
But the possibility of students’ noisy, destructive gatherings is a main concern. The building is proposed to have a live-in onsite manager, as well as a 24-hour manned security desk. Outdoor spaces will ideally be created in limited size, limiting opportunities for large gatherings. According to Williams, the units will be designed to attract serious students. Security will be high, with an electronic key required to get into the building and to use the elevators. Overall, the aim is a “substance free” environment.
Another development, which is in the Cushman section of Amherst, had similar controversy. Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls Inc., reached an agreement to sell the land about six months ago for $6.6 million to Landmark Properties of Athens, Ga.
“I empathize with Amherst residents who are concerned about bad student behavior, noise, red cups littering front lawns … who are aggravated by disrupted sleep,” she said.
“Projects like Olympia Place are prescriptions to cure these problems. It’s nearly impossible to manage single family rental houses in neighborhoods, but it’s easy to build a new facility with 24/7 management and security and have no neighbors bothered by gatherings.”
“It’s an interesting project,” Amherst Senior Planner Christine Brestrup said of Olympia Place, “It’s taking specific advantage of changes made in zoning laws.”
Brestrup said there are fairly strict requirements for height and the coverage of the lot. Dimensional requirements were loosened a bit, according to Brestrup, so the Planning Board can allow changes to be made. The idea behind this project is to take a relatively small parcel of land, about one acre, and create a building that can house a large amount of students.
According to Brestrup, the last meeting garnered positive reception but left board members with several questions, including inquiries on whether the building is an apartment building or dorm buildings and whether or not the Planning Board can permit a parking waiver if developers do not provide on-site parking: is this building an apartment building or a dorm building? If developers do not provide on-site parking, can the Planning Board permit a waiver? There are also questions about landscaping and lighting.
The board has several concerns requiring special permits. They are discussing a special permit to build past the maximum height of 40 feet to 67 feet, as well as adding more stories than the allotted three. Building and paving a larger area of the lot will also require a permit, dealing with the specific coverage of the area.
Allison Ludtke can be reached at [email protected]