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 kcleveland@cabinet.com.