A positive step for Amherst
It seems to us that Amy LaBelle and Cesar Abodela, owners of Amherst’s LaBelle Winery, crossed all their T’s when they went before the local Zoning Board of Adjustment seeking variances for an inn, restaurant and distillery across from their winery on Route 101.
While the board has not decided on the distillery, splitting it off from the rest of the application, it gave the go-ahead to the inn and restaurant, something that must still go before the local Planning Board.
But we, like the Zoning Board members, can see no reason to oppose the inn and restaurant plan.
For one thing, Amherst and the area could use a high-end inn, and knowing how LaBelle and Abodela built and maintain their winery and its associated vineyards, anything but high-end from them would be unthinkable.
Add to that the fact that Rolf Biggers is the architect, and we are convinced that the facility will be something of which Amherst can be proud. Biggers did a great job on Amherst Town Hall and other local buildings, and he clearly understands the character of the community.
As Zoning Board member Kevin Shea said, "It’s not a Holiday Inn Express." No offense to Holiday Inn, but such facilities wouldn’t be in keeping with Amherst’s character.
Quite naturally, some nearby homeowners are concerned, particular about the use of water, fearing that an inn, a restaurant and a distillery will use far more than a local aquifer can handle. But the LaBelle Winery owners crossed that T, too, agreeing to comply with recommendations from a hydrologist that include minimizing the amount of impervious surfaces.
And, perhaps most important, the plans call for a 25-acre buffer between the project and houses to the north. That’s a decent sized buffer.
As for residents’ concerns about noise and traffic, we just don’t see it. Sure, there will be more traffic than is there now because the facility will attract customers, but it isn’t as if Route 101 is a charming country lane. It is a highway, albeit a minor one, with cars traveling at 50 mph or better and trucks doing the same. Cars pulling into the parking lots of an inn or distillery won’t really generate that much additional noise, and it isn’t the kind of place that will feature raucous rock ‘n’ roll.
And let’s not forget that this will be tax ratable. Amherst is lucky in that it does have some commercial facilities to offset the impact of the property tax on homeowners, but in the case of ratables, isn’t more better? And this facility won’t add to the number of schoolchildren, which is a good thing from a tax standpoint.
We understand the neighbors’ concerns, but we also have seen enough of the way LaBelle Winery is run to believe that LaBelle and Abodela will do their best to minimize any negative impact, as will the architect.
In the end, we believe the neighbors will see this project for what we believe it to be: Something positive for Amherst and the region. We hope the Planning Board agrees.