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Drilling rattles Amherst neighbors

It has people questioning whether the permit process that allowed the work is flawed.

“The unfortunate side effect of this decision is that residents must now endure eight hours of constant drilling and pounding during the day for five days a week,” Kristina Curro, who lives across the street, told the Select Board this week. Curro said the decibel levels are similar to what a person running a power lawn mower or a vacuum cleaner experiences.

Since work began on the house at 172 State St., and the adjacent barn at 5 Mill St., the noise caused by drilling into bedrock has been incessant, say those living in the neighborhood.

Now, they want town officials to review whether the process of hearings and decision-making that led the Zoning Board of Appeals to issue special permits was appropriate. The property was purchased last fall by Joshua and Judith Lewis. Judith Lewis, who uses the pen name Cassandra Clare, is a noted author of young adult fiction.

The Select Board has not decided how to proceed. “Now we get to figure out what to do about it,” Chairman Aaron Hayden said.

Such construction problems were not anticipated, he said, and the board will determine whether discussions about changing town policies are warranted.

Curro, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, said she and her husband, Steven Lindberg, both work at home during the day and the noise has had a negative effect on what they produce.

While nearby residents received a certified letter informing them about the project, including the garage that will be added, the ZBA hearing was twice postponed due to inclement weather, limiting the numbers of those who could attend, Curro said.

In the decision prepared by Senior Planner Jeffery Bagg, Bagg writes that ZBA members had a conversation about the removal of bedrock, which the construction of the garage would require, but didn’t consider noise an issue.

“Specifically, it was noted that some blasting of bedrock would need to occur for its construction,” he said. But, “the ZBA did not get into discussions about how the construction would occur.”

Curro said she plans to do more research to determine how concerned residents can improve interaction between officials, contractors and property owners and whether changes to local laws are needed.

Among her suggestions are informing abutters and residents of any construction projects requiring blasting or drilling of bedrock, detailing excavation techniques in advance of a hearing and implementing a better notification system for hearings.

“It is obvious that the system has failed the residents at some point in the approval process,” Curro said. “It is astounding that we live in a town that could ban Styrofoam takeout containers and yet allows an entire neighborhood to be subjected to continual, noisy, dusty drilling for weeks on end.”

Ava Fradkin of 148 Summer St. said the level of noise and the distress it could cause, is something town officials should have been aware of before work began.

“My concern is how is this happening? Shouldn’t there be some system in place? There should be some kind of consideration for how it affects the neighborhood,” Fradkin said.

Vincent O’Connor of 175 Summer St. said he believes there was both a faulty notice for the Zoning Board hearing and a faulty decision made by its members. “(They were) absolutely incorrect in approving this thing,” O’Connor said.

Margaret Starkweather of 110 Sand Hill Road said the work is “extremely disturbing. Everyone is angry and upset about what has occurred.”

But even though precautions are being taken, she worries that the pond or the dam could be affected by the bedrock work. “I’m horrified at the possibility something could happen to the pond,” Starkweather said.

For those who are handling the work, the noise is a necessary, if unfortunate, outcome.

Jonathan Wright, the principal at Wright Builders, agreed that neighbors are facing a nuisance that includes noise and dust and that the contractors are trying to limit work hours to between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The issue, Wright said in a letter to the Gazette, is that tactical blasting would have been quicker, but would have posed more risks to the environs. This led to the decision to drill into the granite and split the stone.

“It is metal bits drilling hard rock,” Wright wrote.

But he defends the town process. “The town oversight in Amherst is the most detailed and meticulous in the region. It is simply the predicament of the work, which is regrettable and unavoidable.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at SMerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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