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Decades of contamination complicate proposals for Westwood site

The developer of the former Westwood Country Club golf course has said it intends to spend $238 million to turn the land into single-family homes, townhouses and business properties.

Before it can proceed with those plans, however, Mensch Capital Partners must clean contaminants from the 170-acre parcel. Decades of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides sprayed on the golf course left arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc.

A managing partner said Mensch prepared a cleanup plan that the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved, but acknowledged nothing is going to happen until Amherst signs off on all the site plan approvals and rezonings required for the project to go forward.

“Brownfield remediation is not economically viable without such an agreement,” said Andrew J. Shaevel.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, however, is skeptical that Mensch intends to clean up the site.

“What they’re saying, in effect, is they’re not going to do anything until they get a town approval,” Weinstein said. “The bottom line is they have no intention of cleaning up their contaminated site.”

He noted that it took the developer two years to get its environmental impact plan approved, and that was in December.

“We have not heard from them since,” Weinstein said.

Mensch Capital Partners, a four-member investor group, acquired the Westwood property for $2.5 million when the 18-hole golf course was shut down two years ago, after seven decades of operation.

The $238 million mixed-use development proposed for the site has since met with vehement opposition by neighboring homeowners who, like many Amherst residents, are critical of locating a high-density development in their neighborhood.

Antipathy toward the Westwood proposal was a factor in two Democrats’ getting elected to the Town Board last November, shifting the balance of power away from pro-development Republicans, who had long controlled the board. Deborah Bruch Bucki and Francina J. Spoth both campaigned on a platform of curbing development and preserving green space in the town.

Weinstein had proposed an alternative to the Mensch development, which would have resulted in the former Westwood site becoming mostly parkland, but that idea was later scuttled.

The parkland concept was formulated on the belief that maintaining Westwood as a golf course or turning it into a park would not require remediation, Weinstein said.

But an informal discussion Weinstein had with a state environmental official revealed that assumption to not be true, he said.

“From the discussion, I was told that it needed to be remediated no matter what,” Weinstein said.

What’s more, Weinstein said that he has not been apprised of any Mensch plans to clean up the site or of anything the company has done to prepare Westwood for development.

“As far as I know, they have four or five substantial problems for development, and I’m not aware if they’re tackling any of them,” he said.

Traffic, drainage and sanitary sewers also need to be addressed for any development, Weinstein said,

Mensch released a statement that the company has begun a “remediation investigation” of the site, a plan that details the steps necessary in order to qualify for Brownfield Cleanup Program credits, which would cover between 25 and 50 percent of the cleanup cost. Reimbursement comes only upon the successful completion of the remediation.

“Mensch’s consultants have estimated the cost of remediation ... to be between $3 million and $6 million,” according to the statement. “The actual cost will be largely dependent upon the scope of work for the remediation, which is dependent upon the outcomes learned from the remedial investigation phase of the project.”

Mensch added that it is continuing to reach out to the Town Board to discuss alternatives.

Weinstein said, “Everything is on their end. We don’t work with people to make their site plans feasible. They have to apply and they have to do the work. The ball is in their court completely. We will consider anything they give us. We will be glad to work with them if they have a proposal.”

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com