After 17 years in the making, construction on the first of the 133 homes in the Muir Woods subdivision in Amherst will start by fall 2018., Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. says.
The town Planning Board last week approved the Muir Woods site plan, saying the $50 million project would not harm the environment. The decision followed an extensive discussion that included two members' unsuccessfully attempting to require further study of alternate routes into the subdivision or to change how traffic enters the development.
In the end, the board overrode the traffic and safety concerns and allowed the project to move forward.
"We’re anxious to get started," Anne Duggan, a Ciminelli spokeswoman, said in an email.
Ciminelli purchased the property in 2000, and its initial plans included massive office and research space, student housing, patio homes, apartments and single-family homes. Later proposals scaled back or eliminated many of those components, and the property sat vacant as the project stalled.
The company unveiled its latest plans earlier this year. Ciminelli proposed, with Ryan Homes, to build 133 single-family homes on 46 acres on the east side of the 326-acre site at North French Road and Campbell Boulevard -- leaving development on other portions of the property for later.
The homes in "The Preserve at Muir Woods" will sit on a cul-de-sac and many will line a 41-acre lake at the parcel's southeastern corner.
Access to the property will come through Lynette Lane, from the north, off North French, and from Campbell to the east. Residents have worried the new route into the subdivision would be used as a cut-through to avoid rush-hour delays at the North French-Campbell intersection.
The Town Board and state transportation planners had directed Ciminelli to build an access road into the development from Campbell, instead of from the John James Audubon Parkway and the Lockport Expressway, to the south, because the southern connection would bring commercial traffic into Muir Woods and into the neighborhood along Lynette.
However, Planning Board member Mary Shapiro sought to require Ciminelli to study whether it was still possible to connect the subdivision from the south. Without that connection from the parkway, she said, the initial Muir Woods subdivision is isolated from the future development on the site and from the University at Buffalo.
Daniel Ulatowski, another Planning Board member, said he didn't think Ciminelli was doing enough to address the potential North French-Campbell cut-through traffic.
He said the fire code requires two access roads into the subdivision, but both don't have to be open at all times. Ulatowski proposed setting up a crash gate at the Lynette Lane entrance that would open in case of emergencies, but otherwise would be inaccessible to cut-through drivers.
Shapiro's and Ulatowski's proposals didn't go anywhere. Rick Gillert, the town's planning director, reminded board members of the project's long history and of the roles the Town Board and the state played in shaping the plan that Ciminelli presented to the Planning Board.
When it became clear a majority of the Planning Board was preparing to approve the project, resident Kathleen Marando stood up to express her frustration, even though the public wasn't allowed to comment.
"This is a total farce," said Marando, who lives off Campbell Road.
"That's the way we all felt," Ann Grifasi, who also attended the meeting, said later.
Grifasi, who lives on Nancy Lane, off Lynette, said she would like the developer to build a connection to Audubon Parkway, install the crash gate at Lynette and forgo the access road at Campbell. "That's the ideal situation there," she said. "What they're planning is absolutely stupid."
The board did agree to require Ciminelli to conduct an updated traffic study after 75 homes are built and occupied.
The last traffic study was conducted in March. The Planning Board in August voted to seek input from the Town Board and to request an additional traffic study. But the Town Board on Sept. 5 voted to pass the project back to the Planning Board.
“We feel that the board made an informed decision last night, and that it reflects the comprehensive nature of the environmental review process required for this project," Duggan said Friday.
Ciminelli now can start coordinating with the other agencies to bring utilities to the site and apply for the necessary permits for site improvements, Duggan said.
The Planning Board still must approve the final plat, or subdivision map, to make sure the preliminary plan matches the final plan. Once that happens, Duggan said, work on infrastructure at the site can begin, probably in the spring.
Construction on the first homes would begin in fall 2018, and it would take three to four years to finish all 133 homes, Duggan said.