Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Variance approved for new housing development near University Drive

UDrive Amity LLC has proposed an 85-unit apartment complex
Potential renderings of 422 Amity Street by Kuhn Riddle Architects.

The Amherst Board of Appeals approved a variance for the property of 422 Amity Street on Thursday night, allowing for a possible new housing complex to be built.

This variance will have the potential for the property to be placed on the corner of University Drive and Amity Street across from the Hangar Pub and Grill, down from the University of Massachusetts’ Southwest residential area.

UDrive Amity LLC, owned by developer Barry Roberts, has proposed a five-story mixed-use building to be put on the 5.3-acre property that is currently occupied by Pleasantrees, a now closed marijuana dispensary, and a partially used office space.

The complex, shown in detail at the Thursday meeting, is planned to contain covered parking on the first floor with space still reserved for commercial or office space.

Designs presented showed two buildings, one long building and one “L” shaped one, totaling a proposed 78 rental spaces and with 12 percent of the dwellings set to be affordable housing.

The variance, which relaxes the zoning restriction on the property, was argued for on several grounds: the irregularity of the soil conditions and unique topography, the financial hardship the bylaw would cause and the impact to public good. If the variance was rejected it would have prevented the proposed complex from being built, causing developers to modify plans and limit the number of units.

One variance request was for a higher height restriction so the complex would have five floors and a first floor of parking spaces and commercial space. The height restriction was approved in the vote from 55 feet to 57 feet.

“We are asking for relief for a couple dimensional regulations from [the zoning board of appeals], if those are granted then we would go to the planning board, because the mixed-use use is allowed by right with site plan approval. So, we expect at that point to be talking about design,” Tom Riedy said, a petitioner on behalf of UDrive Amity LLC.

If the project proceeds through the planning board, it could also lead to the building of a traffic circle at the intersection in front of 422 Amity Street. However, a submission must first be sent to the MassWorks infrastructure grant program to help fund the cost of the rotary.

UMass sits across Amity Street from the site and would need to collaborate with Amherst in order to request a MassWorks grant. UMass students would also be a main source of renters that might possibly choose to reside in the upcoming housing.

When asked during the meeting how UMass felt about the project, Riedy stated that “They were supportive of it,” and “I think this would be in accord with what [UMass] is doing.”

“I think the University is trying to make University Drive a different sort of corridor, an entry to the University,” Riedy said, who noted that he had had several talks not only with the Amherst Planning Board but also with UMass.

In a similar action, the Amherst Planning Board discussed on Feb. 21 adopting an overlay zone, a small zoning district that supersedes the district that surrounds it, in the same area of Amherst on University Drive, from Amity Street to Northampton Road on both sides of the street.

The Board hasn’t set in stone the amendment for the overlay zone, and Nathanial Malloy, a senior planner on the planning board stated during the meeting that he hopes to “try to have this worked out in the next three to four months.”

The overlay zone will allow for mixed-use buildings to be put up along University Drive including housing. The current zoning allows mostly business limited, offices and shops, and some of the street allows for the urgent care facility.

If the overlay is adopted it could provide a location for more housing for students and families to be built.

“I would say that [the planning board’s] track is parallel to what Mr. Roberts and Mr. Riedy are doing,” Christine Brestrup, the planning director for Amherst said.

“We started talking about various areas in town that could support increased housing density this spring and then this fall. [The planning board] finally lit on University drive on a good area, which has a lot of potential and is not in a situation where there would be a lot of anxiety on the side of neighbors,” Brestrup said.

The overlay is yet to be decided and accepted into the town bylaws by the panning board, however with the variance approved the overlay won’t affect the current project proposed for 422 Amity Street.

“I am very much in support of this project,” Amity Street resident Laetitia La Follette said during the meeting. “Amherst desperately needs housing of this kind.”

“Having this project moving forward, I think nothing but good can happen from you granting this variance,” Bruce Coldham, the clerk for the Amherst planning board, said.

A draft of the full project report and all variance requests outlines the next steps for the project including the planning board’s ability to regulate and change the design. The project must begin within a year, according to the limitations on the variance, unless more time is requested in an appeals court.

“We want to see these types of projects happen, we want to see University Drive look more like this than what it does now,” Coldham said.

Alex Hill can be reached at [email protected].

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