Wanted: Affordable senior housing

AMHERST – Be cre­ative and flexible, the Amherst Planning Board told developers who want to build houses on nearly 127 acres off Brook Road.

The engineering firm representing land owner Chesterton Capital went before the board Oct. 7 with a conceptual discus­sion for a 39-unit residen­tial development.

A plan was approved in 2006 and expired in 2010, but board Vice Chair­woman Sally Wilkins told T.F.Moran’s engineers to think about making radi­cal changes so it allows for a more diverse popula­tion – mixing senior hous­ing with affordable hous­ing, for example.

There is a "huge, huge need" for affordable se­nior housing, Wilkins said.

"I can’t tell you how many phone calls I get from people telling me, ‘If I sell my five-bedroom house in Amherst, there isn’t a unit in the over-55 housing that I can afford,’ " she said. "We are not talk­ing about taking hobos off the street. We are talking about a real need for real people who live here now."

A zoning amendment that the board had worked on for two years and ap­proved by voters in March allows for alternatives to standard zoning.

Called "integrated in­novative housing," it per­mits increases in density based on amenities, such sidewalks and parks, and allows mixing of housing types, such as afforable, senior and regular single-family housing, giving a density bonus as a reward to developers who meet community needs or save open space.

Wilkins told the engi­neers to forget about hav­ing 39 units, and she also suggested bringing the project down the hill and closer to Brook Road to cut the expense of build­ing a long road.

The engineers said the discussion was enlighten­ing.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.