AMHERST — A major development at a 130-acre farm site in Amherst is being considered, which is intended to promote active agriculture while also incorporating different styles of housing.
TransFarmations, an organization that builds neighborhoods with a positive impact on carbon dioxide levels, has entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the Jacobson family for its massive farm property at 17 Christian Hill Road.
A conceptual plan for the new project has been prepared and presented to the local planning board, but a formal application has not yet been submitted.
“The first two goals: The owners wanted to protect open space and protect the farmland,” said Carter Scott, president of TransFarmations. Under the preliminary plan, the farming will not only be maintained, but expanded, he said.
Although the exact number of acres that would be developed and the exact number of proposed housing units that would be added have not yet been determined, a mix of senior housing, duplexes, affordable housing, single-family homes, rental units and cottages is being considered for the site, according to Scott.
Aside from the diversified housing, he said the mission is to design passive house standards, or a regenerative community that sinks carbon into the soil and produces more energy and more food than it needs.
He’s hoping for all-electric homes with super insulation, solar panels and Energy Star windows, as well as the creation of greenhouses and ground-mounted solar fields with grazing underneath. Seasonal crop rotations, on-contour planting, and fruit and nut trees are all being proposed for the property, according to the conceptual plan.
“Hopefully this could be a climate change model that could be replicated elsewhere,” Scott said.
Mike Hvizda, a realtor, is partnering with the developer in an effort to fill a demand for housing within all segments of the Amherst market.
“This project could put Amherst on the map to being something that we should be promoting, in general, as we solve this issue” of the housing shortage, Hvizda said.
As farms continue to close throughout the nation, said Ian McSweeney, an agriculture consultant assisting with the project, there could still be a viable farm in Amherst with the appropriate investments into the project, specifically the renovation of the existing barn, the formation of community space, rental housing, a solar energy system and the farm infrastructure that will allow the farmland to thrive and food to be grown and used by the community.
“Our plan is to bring about diversified food production, agriculture that focuses on the health of the soil and the ecosystem and expand the diversity of the food production that exists both through annual, perennial and animal agriculture and through permaculture principles,” said McSweeney.
The possibility of pigs, sheep and goats on the site was also discussed.
Concerns are already being raised by abutters to the property and other residents. Some of those concerns are in regard to water, building foundations and the developer’s history of having to file for bankruptcy on one occasion.
“I am unconvinced this is a good long-term plan, or the right developer ... I do not understand how you can propose so much at once — it seems at odds and a little bit overpromising,” said resident Simon Sarris.
Scott Stimpert of Brimstone Hill Road echoed those concerns, saying the project would fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood.
“The amazing lack of detail you are being presented with right now should be cause of concern,” Stimpert maintained.
Another resident, from Bloody Brook Road, urged strong reconsideration, saying the proposal could potentially be dangerous to the environment.
The chairman of the planning board, Michael Dell Orfano, reminded residents that the applicant has land rights that must be respected, and that development of the land is the applicant’s right as long as it is done within the context of local ordinances.
Laurie Jacobson-Stevens, one of the five owners of the property who are living throughout the country, said she doesn’t want to see houses all over the site. While development was never a desire of her father’s, she said he died in 2013 and many decisions were left to her.
“Here is our idea. We are giving it a try,” she said.