The owners of the former Westwood Country Club in Amherst have changed their redevelopment plans for the onetime golf course, adding significantly more open park space, an east-west drive and a fire station in response to extensive public comments it has received.
Mensch Capital Partners LLC, the investor group that bought the club four years ago, said Tuesday that it had submitted an updated "conceptual master plan" and rezoning application to town officials. The revised application incorporates feedback received during a Nov. 17 Planning Board hearing, as well as other input from the public, the town's planning and engineering departments, the Amherst Traffic Safety Board and the Amherst Conservation Advisory Council.
“We listened to our neighbors, town residents, and our town officials, and then modified the Conceptual Master Plan to incorporate as many of these ideas and suggestions as possible while still providing for an economically viable development,” said Mensch Managing Partner Andrew J. Shaevel.
Mensch - which consists of Shaevel and Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. CEO Paul F. Ciminelli, Priam Enterprises LLC’s Paul J. Kolkmeyer and Mark E. Hamister of hospitality firm Hamister Group - wants to redevelop the sprawling private club property at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road into a new mixed-use neighborhood that envisions a variety of housing for 1,700 people, along with retail and commercial space, and parkland.
The $250 million plan includes a range of single-family homes, patio homes, townhouses, apartments, a senior living facility with 200 assisted-living and up to 104 independent-living units, and the "Westwood Neighborhood Center," which combines residential living on top of neighborhood retail shops and restaurants, plus a hotel and professional office space.
But the scale of the project has prompted anger among some residents of nearby streets and neighborhoods, who worry about increased traffic, noise and other issues. They've also expressed concern about environmental contamination on the property, which has been accepted into the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program after tests found traces of arsenic from pesticides once used by the golf course. Native American artifacts have also been found on the site.
Instead of being commercially redeveloped, critics want the property to be acquired by the town and turned into a vast new public park. Mensch had even proposed swapping Westwood for the town's Audubon course, closer to University at Buffalo, but town leaders were opposed and sought a more complex alternative. In the meantime, the group's redevelopment plans have also not advanced much through the municipal process until now.
“We believe redevelopment of the Westwood site as a mixed-use neighborhood is the only way to ensure the existing contamination on the property is remediated, while creating meaningful investments that will generate significant tax revenues for the Town of Amherst and the Williamsville School District that will benefit all town residents,” Shaevel said.
The biggest change is the increase in permanent open space, from 38 percent of the 170-acre site to 47 percent - nearly half of the entire property, at 82 acres. That includes a new 39.4-acre park, with a new and enlarged lake of 6.5 acres - up from five acres - and a network of walking trails.
Most of the existing wooded areas will be preserved, including the one specifically cited by the town's Conservation Advisory Council.
The new design by Wendel Companies architect Dean Gowen also changes the neighborhood center to make it more pedestrian-friendly and reduce its scale, putting a "Town Green" concept in the center with two acres of new greenspace amid mixed-use buildings. That's based on Bester Plaza at Chautauqua Institution.
There's also a new office and community facility linking the new town green to the lake, with an outdoor amphitheater to provide residents with another place to assemble. There's a new condominium and apartment complex in the center, with 15 buildings of 12 units each, while the 40 townhomes of two to three stories each will be moved closer to Frankhauser Road to the west.
“The main objective was to substantially increase the publicly accessible permanent open space and further integrate the pedestrian friendly mixed use components to be included in the proposed neighborhood,” Shaevel said.
The revisions also include several features to address traffic concerns, such as a new east-west road through the development from North Forest to Frankhauser , with a one-way "entrance-only" connection from Frankhauser to the "neighborhood center" complex. The project already features a north-south road from Sheridan to Maple Drive. And a new roundabout on North Forest near the existing site entrance would eliminate the sharp curve on North Forest.
The Snyder Fire Department will also get a small substation on the campus, to support faster response times to the surrounding area. And crews would install a new dedicated sewer main along Maple Road that would connect to the existing lines along Amherst Manor Drive, giving the site more capacity to handle sanitary sewer and stormwater flows during bad weather.
“We listened and responded with an updated plan that reflects a concerted effort to incorporate input from a broad range of stakeholders," Shaevel said.
"We hope that the town and its residents, including our neighbors, will work with us to implement this significantly modified new plan with numerous benefits for all town residents, including the enhancement of the tax base, a new town park, the remediation of a contaminated brownfield, numerous new housing options in a pedestrian friendly neighborhood setting, and much more.”
The revised plan can be viewed at http://www.westwoodamherst.com/overview/related-documents.