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 firstname.lastname@example.org.