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Plans for a large apartment complex on heavily wooded acreage next to the Ellicott Creek bike path at Sweet Home Road were questioned by three Amherst Town Board members at a hearing Monday night.

Council Members Thomas A. Loughran, Bill Kindel and Peggy Santillo expressed doubts about destroying 28 acres of trees adjoining the popular bike path for 288 units of apartments.

The board continued the hearing until Nov. 4 after questions arose about whether all nearby property owners had been notified of the hearing. Only a handful of property owners live within 500 feet of the site, officials said.

Amherst Police Chief John B. Askey, who owns property on nearby North Forest Road, said he wasn't notified of the rezoning from "major open space," sought by Clover Management Inc. for the project.

Askey spoke against the rezoning, calling it a change "from major open space to a major amount of people."

The property is a remnant of the state Urban Development Corp.'s "Audubon new town" plan from the early 1970s, when about 2,000 acres were acquired for a planned community next to the North Campus of the University at Buffalo.

Due to financial and other difficulties -- including the designation of hundreds of acres of the site as wetlands -- only a small part of the UDC's plan ever materialized.

In recent years, the agency has been selling off its developable land, while donating about 1,200 acres of undevelopable wetland to Amherst for public open space.

Askey said rezoning publicly owned open space for private development gives the issue added significance. Council Member Jane S. Woodward noted the UDC's donation of 1,200 acres of open space to the town.

Kindel termed "drastic" the land-use change proposed. He said that at one time, authorities felt public open space would be the best use for that particular land, and he questioned what has happened to change that thinking.

Jeffery D. Palumbo, attorney for Clover Management, said the firm has an option to buy the land from the UDC, subject to the town approving the rezoning. The UDC had several interested purchasers, he said.

The Amherst Planning Board has conditionally recommended approval.

Palumbo noted that Clover is providing two items that blocked the UDC's attempt to rezone the land for apartments last year -- a concept plan and secondary access to the Colonie Apartments to the south.

Palumbo said it would be an upscale apartment complex, with a clubhouse, swimming pool, and fireplaces and microwave ovens in most units.

In other business, Phyllis Bruckenstein, vice president of the Representatives Council at the Amherst Senior Center, lamented that the board's Oct. 7 vote to spend about $21,000 in federal money on a new senior citizens center project wasn't unanimous.

Some critics contend the current senior center isn't crowded, but that's because of building and fire codes, Ms. Bruckenstein said. "If you are fortunate enough to get in, you've got enough space," she said. "It's the people that don't get in we're concerned with."

Instead of "crowded," Ms. Bruckenstein said she prefers the term, "filled to capacity."

"Many seniors can't use the center because programs are filled to capacity," she told the board. "New members get discouraged from coming. Many say they don't even bother registering for classes because they know they won't get in."

The board also:

Postponed accepting a deer immunocontraceptive program proposed by the Humane Society of the United States until it can meet with a top official from the state Department of Environmental Conservation next Monday.

Approved spending $9,000 on the state-ordered cleanup of an area behind the town Highway Department where spoiled road-striping paint reportedly was buried in the mid-1980s.

Approved the rezoning of a small strip of land at 6110 Main St. for added parking for a new office building. The developer, Uniland Development Corp., is offering to buy the property of homeowners on nearby Youngs Road who complained about traffic Oct. 7, the board announced.

Approved the rezoning of 270 McKinley Ave. in order to rehabilitate a single-family home and prevent the parcel from being acquired for an expansion of an adjoining business on Transit Road.

Approved rezonings for an office building at 6058 Main and three new homes at 350 and 390 New Road.

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