Planners look at elderly housing

AMHERST – The developer who wants to build a large elderly complex on Route 122 should offer housing that people would be excited to live in, planning board members told the engineer who brought preliminary plans to them recently.

Ashwood Development Company wants to take advantage of a zoning ordinance that gives density bonuses for certain amenities, and engineer Chad Branon, from Fieldstone Land Consultants, laid out many enticements for the board, including sidewalks, a community garden, trails through open space in the rear of the property.

The plan is for 61 units on 31 acres on property that had long been an automotive flea market.

The integrated innovative housing ordinance allows more density in exchange for certain amenities.

Located at 153-159 Hollis Road (Route 122), the property is made up of six parcels on the west side of the road, between Ponhema Hill and Rocky Hill roads.

The renovation of desirable old buildings is one of the features that could earn bonuses, and Branon told the board the existing farmhouse could be renovated into a clubhouse, and its attached barn into four one-bedroom units, with two accessory structures used for crafts, games or a sauna.

Landscaping of the 100-foot wide space in the front would maintain a rural appearance, he said, and 15 acres of undeveloped land in the back of the units would be non-public open space with a half mile of trails. There are also plans for some rental units.

“The goal is to touch on just about every option of housing and try to hit all the demographics,” Branon said.

Planners stressed that the discussion was very preliminary, and they want something special in exchange for bonuses.

“You’ll have to persuade us,” said Arnold Rosenblatt, and show why the development would be good for Amherst and good for people buying the units.

Planned residential developments we see in Amherst don’t accomplish that, he said.

When Branon asked for examples of impressive projects, the planner said they are far from here, and he is disappointed with the projects that have been built in Amherst. Board member Sally Wilkins said some of them horrify her.

“We would like to see something that looks organic,” she said, using the example of the Amherst Village.

“Go for a walk around the Village – there’s variety of size and variety of aspect,” she said.

Board member Peter Lyon suggested that developers look at the farmhouse on the property as a starting point, because it “represents that area nicely.”

Rick Hart mentioned the Village at Stone Barn, in Peterborough and its innovative features, and Branon said it is his project.

Amherst’s integrated innovative housing ordinance was approved by voters in 2015 to allow “alternative approaches to development, while protecting the town’s rural aesthetic.”

The discussion was only to give the board a general concept of the plans, and Fieldstone is expected to return to the board.

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

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