Board hears park issues
AMHERST – Both sides in the Joshua’s Park controversy aired their views in front of selectmen last week.
The nonprofit Amherst Land Trust’s public playground and community garden is scheduled to open later this month, and on May 9, the selectmen held the first of two public hearings on the Courthouse Road park.
Noel Berube, whose home abuts the park, told the board the location and size of the parking lot is a major problem.
Her husband had been working with the trust and the Planning Board from the beginning, she said, and they still don’t have a plan that satisfies their concerns. She asked that the board accept the park contingent upon moving the lot.
"We didn’t realize the parking lot would end up next to our living room. … This is a hard lesson in small-town politics," she said.
The plan violates the town’s nonresidential site plan regulations, she said, and there should be substantial buffers for all neighbors.
Sally Wilkins, president of the Amherst Land Trust, told the board that the Planning Board "followed all site plan regulations to the T."
Gordon Leddy, a landscape architect and member of the trust, explained the options in designing the locations for the park entrance and parking lot.
The Courthouse Road location is much safer than Baboosic Lake Road, he said, and it means the park is integrated with the Village.
The park was designed with the intention of devoting as much land as possible to recreation use, Leddy said. Switching the location of the community garden area with the parking lot, as the Berubes requested, would eat up too much space and create many opportunities for conflicts between people and vehicles, he said.
"Moving the parking lot to the center of the site would make cars the focal point, which would be anathema," Leddy said.
Moving the direction that cars in the parking lot would face would be difficult because of a utility pole, he said.
"So, I fell back on creating a dense vegetative buffer" using 10- to 12-foot spruce trees, Leddy said.
The parking lot is 50 feet from the property line, he said, and there is another 20 feet between the property line and the Berubes’ house; therefore, the plan provides three times the required side yard setback for a building, and there are no setback requirements for a park.
Only two other neighbors spoke. One asked for a clear demarcation between the park and his land, and the other asked the board to make sure the park doesn’t diminish neighbors’ property values.
John Harvey, of the Conservation Commission, recommended approval but asked for provisions dealing with trash and dog waste.
Selectmen, who said they wanted more information on the proposed tree buffer, will hold another hearing on Monday, May 23, before they take a vote.
Although the Board of Selectmen has no role in the approval process, and Joshua’s Park has all the approvals it needs – from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Historic District Commission – the trust wants Amherst to take ownership so it is covered under the town’s liability insurance.
The park is being built with donated money and is named for Joshua Savyon, who died three years ago. His mother gave the largest donation.
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.