Setting aside concerns of area residents, Amherst Town Board members Monday voted, 6-1, to consider new proposals for the St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse that would call for rezoning the property.
Williamsville-area residents want strict limits on any reuse of the 132,000-square-foot motherhouse because they fear some developments will increase traffic and be incompatible with a new state park that will adjoin the grounds of the building.
But Amherst lawmakers, led by Council Member Bob Brewer, argued during a special meeting that the town must cast a wider net for developers if it hopes to find a new use for the building and to recover the town's $2.5 million investment in the site.
"This is precisely the reason we are in this mess . . . We had (a request for proposals) that is far too restrictive . . . and we're going to be sitting here a year later and have nothing to show for it," Brewer told fellow Town Board members before the vote.
Council Members William L. Kindel and Daniel J. Ward, who voted against the proposal, urged the board to heed the concerns of residents who asked that any new proposal be required to fit the present zoning for a community facility.
This restriction would have ruled out possible development as a retail facility, an office building or other similar reuses.
"The board is going to listen to the people, but we're not going to get a proposal if we restrict the zoning and do not allow external changes to the building," Brewer argued.
Last year, Amherst officials requested proposals for the property that would fit the community facility zoning and received only a couple of responses.
Officials selected Peregrine Development Co., which proposed to buy the building for $2.3 million and to redevelop it as senior citizens housing. However, that plan has been on hold while the developer tries to gather support from federal housing officials.
Kindel has criticized the board's choice of Peregrine, saying the developer didn't have the financial ability to complete the project. As a result, Amherst has been paying for monthly upkeep on the motherhouse while the development stands idle.
He strongly urged the board to continue tightly restricting prospective developments so as to "maintain the faith of the (Williamsville) community," which abuts the property.
"The only way to maintain the integrity (of the property) . . . is to keep the (request for proposals) so tight that it will guarantee the peace of the village," he said.
However, Amherst and the state each paid $2.5 million for the historic building and about 80 acres of surrounding land. And Council Member Jane S. Woodward argued that the town must attract a developer in order to recoup its investment.