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Amherst Town Board schedules comment hearing on Westwood plans

Amherst residents will get a chance to comment on future plans for the former Westwood Country Club site in advance of the Town Board actually approving a draft environmental study on developing the 170-acre site.

While the Town Board approved Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein’s plans to begin exploring the idea of turning the former golf course into a park, Mensch Capital Partners – the four-member investor group that purchased the property at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road for $2.5 million in 2012 – still wants to go ahead with plans for a mixed-use development.

An attempt Monday by the board to take the procedural step in affirming the developer’s draft document as ready for public review failed by one vote after Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich voted against accepting it because a glitch prevented the resolution from appearing on Monday’s Town Board agenda.

Acceptance of the developer’s draft environmental impact statement required a unanimous vote of the Town Board.

Instead, the board will take up the matter again at a special meeting set for 7 p.m. Dec. 28, at which the public will be allowed to speak on the proposal. Mensch wants to build a mix of single-family housing, apartments, condominiums, office space, a nursing home and a four-story hotel.

Concerned residents, some who attended Monday night’s regular board meeting, have expressed their objections because of the density of the project, which they have said will ruin the tranquility of neighboring communities and overburden Amherst’s already commuter-clogged roads.

Meanwhile, over the objection of some residents, the board did approve a resolution by Weinstein to begin looking into the possibility of buying part or all of Westwood from Mensch Capital Partners to turn it into a state park through a series of land swaps.

Some residents at Monday night’s meeting insisted the move was both “inappropriate and premature,” but Councilman Mark Manna said the town was under no obligation to make any purchases or land swaps.

“This is just starting the ball rolling. There are at least 10 other actions in this resolution that are going to require Town Board approval. This just opens the door. It doesn’t finalize anything. It doesn’t sell anything. It doesn’t declare anything. It doesn’t require any money. It just begins the process,” said Manna.

Likewise, town officials Monday attempted to assure residents that the Town Board’s acceptance of the document would not be tantamount to agreeing with the substance of its contents. It is only a procedural step, which Sean W. Hopkins, an attorney for the developer, reminded town lawmakers Monday.

“No deficiencies have been identified,” Hopkins said of the document.

“The fact that a mistake was made and this item was not listed on the agenda, we should not be penalized for that,” he added.

Previous draft plans that the developer submitted in July 2014 and in March were rejected as inadequate by both the Town Board and the Planning Board because the developer failed to address issues concerning public and private utilities, as well as the proposed density of the project.

Its eventual approval by the Town Board would kick off a process that will see the document released to the public for comments at future public hearings set up by the town Planning Board. But it would still be a long way off from a final approval.

Once the Town Board approves a draft environmental impact statement, the developer will then be required to submit an actual site plan before issuing a final environmental impact statement. After more public hearings, the Town Board will have final say on the proposed mixed-use development.

“As you know, determining that (the draft environmental impact statement) to be complete is not a substantive decision, meaning you’re not making a recommendation on the project. You’re simply saying (the document) is ready for public review,” said Hopkins.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com