By Tara Paolini
This coming week, an important lawsuit is being heard in the Appellate Court in Rochester concerning the height restriction of the proposed Iskalo hotel tower project in Snyder at the Lord Amherst site.
The outcome will weigh heavily on the future of Amherst and possibly the rest of the state. At issue is the power of the Zoning Board of Appeals to overturn decades-old restrictions placed on parcels of land in the Town of Amherst.
Last year, the Zoning Board overturned the decision of Amherst Building Inspector Tom Ketchum. Ketchum had recognized that the Town Board in 1969 had imposed a height limitation on any building to be constructed on the property: that it be no higher than the existing Lord Amherst Hotel, 35 feet. This restriction was agreed to by the owner and developer, who sought rezoning in order to develop a residential neighborhood next to the hotel property. Over the years, the neighborhood has grown into one of the most desirable places to live in Amherst.
The decision by the Zoning Board has now allowed a 77-foot tower to be built overlooking a residential neighborhood. This is precisely what the Town Board sought to avoid. The hotel property has been zoned commercial for many years and could have been developed into any number of viable developments, while keeping in line with the height restriction put in place.
More importantly for Amherst residents, this decision has effectively nullified all pre-existing restrictions placed on land parcels in the town. For this reason, the town has sided with the residents and is supporting our appeal in the appellate court.
The building has begun and already the damage to the neighborhood is apparent. To those who live in the shadow of this hotel, it is inconceivable that the Zoning Board would overturn a height restriction placed on the Lord Amherst property by the Town Board years ago. In doing so, all Amherst residents are now at risk that property adjacent to them, which had a restriction in the past, can now be developed at will.
Some argue that our fight is against a developer who is trying to better the community and that we merely do not want our “view” spoiled. The lost truth in this debate is that over the past 40-plus years, our neighborhood has grown and prospered because people have invested their hearts and souls into their homes. This investment was done with the knowledge that a bordering property could never be developed with a tower. The Zoning Board, in a single vote, may have destroyed our neighborhood forever.
The homeowners of the Livingston Parkway Association have been overwhelmed with support from all over the town. We are grateful and hope our efforts will pay off for all Amherst residents as this case is argued.
Tara Paolini is a member of the Livingston Parkway Association.