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Amherst MA: A New Village Plan for Atkins Corner - page 6 / 13





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development in a similarly zoned area in the northwest of town, along University Drive from the University of Massachusetts to Hadley. The area has become unrecognizable in the last 10 years or so, having developed rapidly into strip malls, fast-food restaurants, and gas stations.

First Steps. The initial impetus for developing a village center at Atkins Corner came from Hampshire College’s campus planner, Larry Archey. The college began discussions with the Town and Atkins Farm Market in 1997. Following these discussions, senior town planner La Cour set up a working group of representatives from the college, the market, the Town’s planning board, and key residents to look at the site and come up with ideas for its development. In fall 1997, the working group met at Applewood, inviting its members and nearby residents to participate. The working group presented some of its ideas, and the community’s reaction surprised LaCour. “It was pretty hostile. I was wishing I had a flak jacket on. Problem was, we didn’t have any plans for them to look at. So the response was, ‘Oh no! It’s going to change. We don’t want it to change!’”

A second meeting took place at which the working group offered more design ideas, particularly focused on road safety. At this meeting, however, they invited the community to participate in a more hands-on fashion. “We said, if we were going to do this, what would you like to see?” according to LaCour. “We had a lot of people working in small groups saying things like, ‘I would like a drug store,’ and so forth. And while that meeting was still somewhat hostile to change, residents were comforted by the fact that the working group was willing to listen.”

At this time, the Town, the college, and the market contracted with the Conway School of Landscape Design for a site assessment of the area and a build-out showing what the area would look like if it were developed under existing zoning. (The contract was partially funded by a grant from the regional planning agency, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.) The 1998 report gave residents a way to visualize the dramatic, low-density, sprawl-style change that would result at Atkins Corner. In LaCour’s opinion, the build-out was a turning point for many people. He began to hear more positive


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