Huge housing complex eyed for Yankee Candle founder’s Leverett estate
|Published: 12-05-2023 6:14 PM
LEVERETT — A large-scale housing development, potentially with hundreds of homes and apartments, is being considered for the Kittredge Estate, the home of the late Yankee Candle founder that has been on the real estate market for $23 million since the summer of 2022.
While no formal plans for a project on the property, bounded by Juggler Meadow and Amherst roads, have been submitted to town officials, members of the Planning Board on Monday began publicly discussing how to handle a development that, should it move forward, could change the fabric of a community with fewer than 2,000 residents.
Planning Board Chair Tom Ewing said the project, based on a brief overview elected officials have received from the estate’s development manager on behalf of the Kittredge family, is for “hundreds of units on the Kittredge property” — reportedly in the range of 700 units. Some would be multi-story, and all would be connected to Amherst’s sewer and water systems.
“It’s way beyond anything anticipated” by town zoning, Ewing said.
Housing development in Leverett has largely been limited by zoning rules, but also because there is no municipal sewer, meaning that successful perc tests are needed so private septic systems can be built.
But this project may be able to bypass existing zoning restrictions, possibly through use of the state’s Chapter 40B law. The 40B law allows developments with significant affordable housing to skirt local zoning if a community doesn’t have at least 10% of its housing stock in the state’s Subsidized Housing Inventory.
If that is the route chosen, site plans would be submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit.
Ewing said even if planners are not directly involved, he wants to make sure that the town mitigates the downsides and maximizes the benefits of such an intensive development, possibly through exploring rezoning the site to accommodate such a project by right. That would depend on action at Town Meeting.
“I would rather see us approach this as what can we get out of it and come at it as enhancing the community and making Leverett a better place to live, rather than resist it,” Ewing said.
To that end, the town board is considering hiring a consultant who would work with planners and other officials. The town is already in the midst of a comprehensive planning process that is gathering input from residents on a vision for the town.
The Kittredge Estate began being developed in the 1990s. The 120,000-square-foot compound features a 25,000-square-foot home with five bedrooms, 8½ bathrooms, a full kitchen and 11 fireplaces; a nine-hole golf course; two climate-controlled car barns that hold up to 60 vehicles; a 55,000-square-foot spa building with a sauna, steam room, locker rooms and massage rooms; and a 4,000-square-foot gym.
There is also an indoor tennis court; a 4,000-square-foot stage where bands such as Hall & Oates and The Doobie Brothers have performed; a video arcade with slots, pinball machines and carnival-style Skee-Ball; a three-lane bowling alley and billiards room; and an indoor water park with slides, waterfalls and palm trees.
Joshua Wallack, the Kittredge family’s development manager for what’s called Juggler Meadow Estate, is expected to provide an overview of the redevelopment at the Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. A site visit to the property for Planning Board members and their guests had been scheduled for that afternoon, but is being postponed until after the meeting.
Wallack is handling the project on behalf of Michael J. “Mick” Kittredge III, son of Michael J. Kittredge II, who died in 2019 at the age of 67. The late Kittredge founded the South Deerfield-based Yankee Candle Co. while his son launched Kringle Candle Co. in Bernardston.
Wallack assured the public that there would be ample opportunity to arrange site visits at the estate and learn more about the vision, which can be challenging without seeing the property in person.
Even without formal plans, Leverett officials have already been active in responding to the potential for a huge residential development.
Ewing said that he, Selectboard Chair Tom Hankinson and Town Administrator Marjorie McGinnis recently met with Amherst officials, including Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Planning Director Christine Brestrup and Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek.
“We’d like to coordinate between the two towns as much as possible,” Ewing said.
One of the main issues discussed was about the capacity of the Amherst sewer system. Built as a regional system in the 1970s, it could handle such a development in Leverett.
Another issue, though, could be getting the connection into Leverett. Hankinson said Amherst officials told him that having sewer and water lines run up Leverett Road in Amherst, considered a scenic road, is not ideal, and that adding traffic to the rural road also wouldn’t be compatible with Amherst’s master plan.
But Hankinson said if the Kittredge Estate is redeveloped, he suspects some of those who live there would want to use Juggler Meadow Road to get to Route 63, the state highway where people can travel south to Amherst and north to Montague and Erving. That town road is paved, but is narrow and windy and would need improved infrastructure. In one section, there is a one-lane underpass below a railroad crossing.
There are also the usual concerns developments pose over police and fire protection and public transportation, Hankinson said.
Bockelman said on Tuesday that Amherst officials would have to analyze what extending the sewer and water lines would mean for potential development in Amherst as well. But like with bringing a municipal water line into Leverett to assist homeowners whose wells were contaminated by a former landfill, Bockelman said Amherst would want to be partners with the town, if asked by Leverett officials to extend the lines.
“We will work with our neighbors,” Bockelman said.
On Monday, a handful of residents who live on both Amherst Road and Juggler Meadow Road attended the Planning Board meeting, saying they were there to learn more.
Ewing said that officials, though, are still in the dark as to the specifics.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.