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Vote for housing near UB falls short

A recommendation to amend Amherst's comprehensive town plan and rezone a much-debated area of Rensch Road near the University at Buffalo failed before the Amherst Planning Board last week.

While the proposal won a 3-2 majority of the members present, it lacked a majority vote of the seven-member board -- two of the members were absent.

A similar recommendation to change the area's use from "research and development" to "multi-family residential" was passed by the Town Board in March, only to be stalled by subsequent lawsuits led by UB.

The recommendation's failure angered Rensch Road residents who have been lobbying to rezone the area in order to sell their properties to GMH Communities, a developer that wants to build a student housing complex on the site.

"[The rezoning] is still alive, but I won't be satisfied until I get a check in my hand," said one longtime resident who did not wish to be named.

"What do they [at UB] have against the residents of Rensch Road?" asked resident Lester Busdiecker during the pre-vote public hearing. "I didn't think we had anything against them."

During the hearing, representatives of GMH reiterated their intention to build an 850-bed apartment on the plot. While not explicitly earmarked for student use only, the apartment complex would be patrolled by resident assistants and arranged like a dormitory.

Board Member Marjory Jaeger voted against the rezoning, telling the board that she thought the student apartments would increase student misbehavior and become overrun by nonstudent tenants.

Opposition to the measure during the hearing came from University at Buffalo lawyers and representatives, who claimed that the school needs the land to house research buildings.

Robert Shibley of the UB 2020 master plan committee said the school wants to retain the zoning in order to make the area into an office park. Talking about land zoned for research and development, he said, "The demand is high and the supply is low."

Board Member Debra Norton, who also voted against the rezoning, said she was reluctant to amend the town's Bicentennial Comprehensive Plan -- which was passed in January -- in what she considered a hasty manner.


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