Planning for the future of Amherst

New development director for town

AMHERST – With its stately co­lonial homes, white picket fences, steepled church and leafy park, the Amherst town common is the center of the Village area, generally ac­knowledged as one of the handsom­est neighborhoods in New Hamp­shire.

And when the Village underwent strategic planning awhile back, the consensus was that residents, in­cluding villagers, like it pretty much as it is.

Could the Village be replicated somewhere else in town? Could there be another beautiful, compact neigh­borhood, with a park and maybe a school and businesses that people could walk to? Gordon Leedy, the town’s new community development director, doesn’t know the answer to that question, but it’s something he wants to ex­plore.

During an interview not long after he started his job, Leedy said there might be a potential for a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood near the 101A corridor.

"Research shows that mixed use has the high­est taxable value," he said. "No one is saying single-family houses on 2-acre lots are bad, but there are people who want something different, and mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, are the hottest part of the market. Amherst could develop a vision and adopt regula­tions that allow it to hap­pen."

Leedy probably knows Amherst and its plan­ning issues as well as anyone. He has been a professional land plan­ner and landscape archi­tect for almost 40 years and is an 18-year veteran of the Amherst Planning Board.

"The Village is a very special place, and citi­zens are very vigilant in guarding it," Leedy said. If we like it, we should al­low more to happen."

Building a dense mixed-use development or a corporate office park would require a sewer system, and the town is beginning to discuss sew­er feasiblity, he said.

The job of a community development director is to manage community change in accordance with the town master plan and the town’s ordinanc­es and regulations.

One community change that concerns Leedy is housing affordability. A family earning a median or average income can’t afford a medium-priced house in Amherst, a situa­tion he said isn’t sustain­able.

"If people can’t afford housing … it’s a problem," he said.

In these early days of his tenure, Leedy is spending time trying to understand what people would like to see happen in Amherst. Last week, he met with Chamber of Commerce President Tracy Hutchins "to get a sense of the business community’s concerns and aspirations."

Like most New Hamp­shire towns, demograph­ics have changed. Am­herst’s population is older, with fewer families moving in, but Leedy ex­pects that to eventually change again, as it did in the 1990s.

Leedy and his wife, Joanne, moved to Am­herst in 1998, at a time when they could find a relatively affordable house that was close to Joanne’s family. Their three sons went through Amherst schools.

Leedy’s father was in the Navy, and the fam­ily moved a lot, so "New Hampshire is really my home," he said. There are plenty of people with money here, "but they don’t wear their money on their sleeve. … People care about each other and their community, and I like that."

Living here "has been really good," he said, because Amherst "com­bines a rural atmosphere and historic heritage and a large number of com­mitted people who care about the place."

Leedy had been direc­tor of land development at Vanasse Hangen Brust­lin in Bedford, a firm that provides transportation planning and engineer­ing, land development and environmental ser­vices.

He replaces Colleen Mailloux, who left Am­herst to take a similar po­sition in Londonderry.

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