Design Review Board in Amherst backs 5-story apartment project connected to old Hastings building

The Amherst Design Review Board on Jan. 29 gave a favorable recommendation to plans for a new five-story apartment complex connected to the back of the former A.J. Hastings building on South Pleasant Street.

The Amherst Design Review Board on Jan. 29 gave a favorable recommendation to plans for a new five-story apartment complex connected to the back of the former A.J. Hastings building on South Pleasant Street. CONTRIBUTED

The Amherst Design Review Board on Jan. 29 gave a favorable recommendation to plans for a new five-story apartment building connected to the back of the former A.J. Hastings building on South Pleasant Street.

The Amherst Design Review Board on Jan. 29 gave a favorable recommendation to plans for a new five-story apartment building connected to the back of the former A.J. Hastings building on South Pleasant Street. CONTRIBUTED

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 8:43 PM

AMHERST — A new five-story apartment project that would rise behind and be connected to the back of the former A.J. Hastings building is receiving a favorable recommendation from an Amherst town committee.

Before site plans for the development at 45-55 South Pleasant St. are filed with the Planning Board, the Design Review Board last week gave its unanimous endorsement to the project, along with some recommendations for possible improvements, following a presentation by a development team from Kuhn Riddle Architects on behalf of developer Barry Roberts and Hastings owners Mary Broll and Sharon Povinelli.

“I’m really excited about this development,” said Design Review Board member Karin Winter during the Jan. 29 meeting. “It’s really going to do a lot to enliven that part of town (and) bring pedestrians in.”

Board member Patricia Auth said the project is tasteful and meets the needs of Amherst for more housing. “Preserving the Hastings building and keeping the streetscape familiar is a wonderful effort with that,” Auth said.

Designs unveiled by Jonathan Salvon, a principal at Kuhn Riddle, show a 55-foot tall building, with large glass windows on three sides, with a taller elevator and staircase shaft on the fourth side connecting to the upper two floors of the three-story Hastings building at 45 South Pleasant St. Those floors in the 19th century building will be renovated into apartments, as well.

The number of apartment remains in flux, Salvon said, and will likely depend on what the market can bear.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Kuhn Riddle Principal Emeritus John Kuhn said the first floor will be for a mechanical room, garbage pickup and bike space, not parking or retail.

As part of the project, a three-story brick cold storage building behind, but not connected, to the Hastings building, and on the backside of the Amherst Cinema building. would be demolished, as well as the wood-frame building adjacent to Hastings that for many years housed Jeffery Amherst Bookshop, to be converted into a landscaped entry plaza. Both those buildings are subject to a six-month demolition delay imposed by the town’s Historical Commission set to expire in April

Kuhn said the project began when he was approached by Broll and Povinelli, who ran Hastings and continue to own the building, including the ground level that is being leased to Amherst College for a store. He said the building is a family heirloom and that it made sense to build a structure behind it.

“It’s a perfect place for more density,” Kuhn said.

When renovated, the Hastings building will feature an off yellow color, including the side facing the 55 South Pleasant building, whose removal may leave scarring and damaged bricks that will need to be repaired.

In reviewing the project for Design Review Board standards, such as height, proportions, and relation of structures and spaces, board members focused on the elevator and staircase tower and ways to make that feel less isolated from the surrounding buildings. Board Chairwoman Erika Zekos said this could be done by matching the color and materials around the base of the tower. “It almost feels too independent,” Zekos said.

Salvon said a number of color studies have been done to make that tower appropriate. “For us, we felt this was kind of a balance,” Salvon said.

The elevator shaft helps to reduce the scale of the new building, creating a counterpoint to give relief to the larger mass, said board member Lindsay Schnarr.

Town Planner Rob Watchilla summarized other comments as the need for more outdoor lighting in the arcade area, which is the existing driveway that brings people to the back of the property, year-round coverage of plantings to screen the transformer, having a mural painted on the transformer, if allowed, and integrating more seating areas or natural seating places around the building.

Board member Catharine Porter said the new project will not cause any distractions to downtown. “From my own personal opinion, it’s OK,” Porter said. “I’m a little concerned with the elevator shaft, but it will be back beyond the walkway,” Porter said.

“This is a very exciting project, and I’m so happy to see that Hastings is being given some new life, and the legacy will go on,” Schnarr said.