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STUDY SEES NEED FOR NEW MASTER PLAN

It has been 26 years since anybody in Amherst sketched out a master plan to guide growth and development in the town. Many of the town's critics say it shows.

Amherst has gained a reputation as a prime example of what happens when suburban growth goes unchecked and planning is haphazard or nonexistent, the critics say.

Now town officials are guiding a process to put together a new comprehensive plan. They say the shelf life of the 1975 master plan has long since passed. "It served its purpose, but as a whole, it has been outdated for years," said Supervisor Susan J. Grelick.

The town held public meetings in September and December to identify key issues. Responses from the 90 people who attended were combined with additional research to compile a profile of Amherst. A 22-page summary of those findings was released last week.

The report concludes that Amherst will continue to grow in both population and jobs. Some services, such as schools and police, are considered exemplary. But others, such as transportation, are called sorely lacking.

The study determined that:

The number of people working in industrial and office parks in Amherst has more than doubled in the past nine years. Last year, more than 30,000 people worked in those settings. The study attributes that job growth to the success of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency's incentive programs.

An increasing number of jobs will be based in Amherst. Projections indicate that 40 percent of the region's employment growth will be in Amherst from 1990 to 2020.

Taxes are higher in Amherst than in neighboring communities. The report does not provide specific numbers, but it does state that "residents get more services in return" for their taxes than residents of other towns.

The amount of traffic often exceeds the capacity of roads and intersections. Of 60 intersections with traffic signals that were studied, 25 were determined to be operating above, at or near capacity, with driver frustration high and long delays evident.

Public transportation in Amherst is limited. Nine NFTA bus routes and five express routes pass through the town. Better options are needed to serve groups such as senior citizens and youths.

Community facilities and services are excellent. Highlights include a low crime rate and public libraries considered to be the 12th-best nationally among communities of comparable size.

Residents have almost twice as much parkland and open space, on a per-resident basis, than called for by the Recreation and Parks Master Plan of 1992.

Water quality in the town's major streams is considered "stressed" or "impaired," according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

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