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Building in Amherst Privately funded brownfields cleanup could benefit town and neighborhood

Benderson Development Co. wants to pour $44 million of its own money -- no government or Amherst Industrial Development Agency funding -- into a 34-acre Maple Road parcel formerly known as the Buffalo Shooting Club. We say, let it.

Opponents of Benderson's proposed mixed-use development worry about traffic congestion and the loss of green space, but the benefits for Amherst are significant. Not least among them is the company's plan to fund a seven-figure toxic-waste removal -- not just a capping of lead contamination from the shooting club -- that would turn a hazardous brownfields site into a residential-standard development that would generate property taxes estimated at more than $1.6 million, including roughly $1 million to be paid to the Sweet Home School District.

The current development plan also would return in excess of $3 million in sales tax revenues to be paid to state and local governments while increasing property values for surrounding homeowners, the developer claims. Opponents worry that, once approved, the plan could shift toward big-box store development. Benderson says it will commit in writing to the medium retail-footprint proposals in the plan, to provide assurances on that score.

The Benderson proposal fits into the Amherst master plan, and even the neighboring University at Buffalo -- no slouch in complaining about proposed development it considers unwise on the other side of the North Campus -- has voiced no objections.

So, what's not to like? A couple of critics can be found on the Town Board. Democratic Council Members Daniel Ward and Deborah Bruch Bucki have told The News they oppose efforts to rezone the property from community facility to general business. They argue that the plan stomps on a neighborhood, as Ward put it, and that this is a commercial extravaganza that could go anywhere.

But this is the type of development, designed by a nationally acclaimed architecture firm specializing in mixed-use communities, that has real potential to pull in researchers from the university to live in the area, attract businesses like a Whole Foods Store and generally exploit the highly academic, high-income potential of a contiguous campus location.

Concerns about whether the company will allow a Wal-Mart on the site should be allayed by the company's willingness to pledge in writing that it will not do so. As for increased traffic, the company has set forth traffic-calming measures in its plans -- and increased traffic volume on already-widened Maple Road became inevitable when UB located its North Campus where it did. A wide range of ancillary development, not just this parcel proposal, drives that increase.

The Town Board has a decision to make. Because of some local property owner objections, a very difficult "supermajority" is needed. On the other hand, the town can choose to fund that seven-figure toxic-waste cleanup itself, or just keep that waste in the neighborhood.

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