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Amherst MA: A New Village Plan for Atkins Corner - page 5 / 13

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Smart Growth Leadership Case Library

Atkins Farm Market, showing the exit onto Rte. 116

Amherst. Amherst continues in the New England tradition of town meeting governance, a board of selectmen, and a variety of committees and boards. The permanent residents of the town are highly educated and progressive, according to long-term resident and retired college professor, Robert Grose. They are also extremely vocal in town government; Grose describes the typical Town Meeting as “going on for days.”

Amherst has some 35,000 residents, of whom 26,400 are students who may or may not live in the town year-round. While a large part of the student population lives on the UMass campus, there is an ongoing need for off-campus rental housing for students. Moreover, as in other parts of New England, Amherst has experienced a dramatic increase in housing costs and the need for new housing. This has led local people to look to the nearby towns of Belchertown, Holyoke, and Hadley for housing, and created traffic issues such as that at the Atkins Corner intersection. The housing problem is expected soon to become even more critical, with the lifting a hiring freeze at UMass that had been in effect since the 1990s.

For the most part, Amherst is also extremely pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, and has an excellent public transportation system. The town center provides easy walking access to amenities such as grocery stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. Hampshire College, on the other hand, is more isolated, with the nearest amenities both limited and more than a mile away. Even with the bus system, there is desire among the staff of Hampshire College to offer their students a place within walking distance for food and entertainment.

Since the 1970s, the town of Amherst, in its comprehensive plan, has described Atkins Corner as a “village center,” even though there has been nothing on the corner that could reasonably be described as a village. Moreover, the current zoning of the area is incompatible with the development of a village center.

Most of the area under study for the village development is zoned as a business district or as low-density residential. If development were to occur under current zoning, it would by default lead to strip development and sprawl. Amherst has experienced such

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