Natale Builders' plan to build 80 houses on 57 acres along New Road in East Amherst got the go-ahead from the town Planning Board six months ago, over the objections of neighbors who said they feared adding traffic to a busy road with no sidewalks.
But Natale has yet to ask the Town Board to schedule a hearing on the nearly $35 million project.
CEO Angelo Natale said he's waiting because he wants to work with the Town of Amherst and Erie County to address the safety issues brought up by neighbors. He said he even is open to paying to install sidewalks along a section of New Road.
"I think we're just kind of taking baby steps right now until we can get that issue resolved," Natale said.
Residents say New Road is long overdue for rebuilding, and improving with sidewalks. But they say they still have serious doubts about the project and about Natale's motives.
"Something's not adding up," said Larry Rera, a co-founder of the New Road Family Safety Organization, which formed in opposition to the project and has handed out 100 lawn signs to homes in the area.
Natale filed plans with the town in March to build up to 80 single-family houses and patio homes on 57 acres off New Road, near where the Lockport Expressway ends at Millersport Highway and just west of Ransom Oaks and the Glen Oak Golf Course. The development requires Town Board approval to rezone 49 acres from suburban agricultural to residential.
Neighbors in the nearby Autumn Meadows subdivision and along New Road raised concerns about the project’s effects on water drainage, wetlands, traffic levels, pedestrian safety and the wildlife that now call the property home.
Still, the Planning Board on April 20 voted to recommend the Town Board grant the rezoning request. The Town Board had scheduled a hearing on the rezoning for June, but withdrew it at the request of Natale.
Natale said he wants to work something out with Erie County that addresses the safety issues on New Road, where drainage ditches run along the road and pedestrians and bicyclists have to dodge traffic.
County Legislator Edward A. Rath III, whose district includes the area, said he'd like to see Erie County perform the work on the ditches, put in some culverts, rebuild and perhaps widen a one-mile stretch of New Road. The work on the road alone would cost in excess of $1 million, and the work on the side of the road could double that cost, he said. Rath said he is hopeful the work can be done in 2018.
Natale said he couldn't commit to paying the entire cost of sidewalks, nor would he promise that any revised proposal would include sidewalks.
The town's zoning code gives a developer six months after the Planning Board recommends action on a zoning change for the developer to request the Town Board set the hearing on the change. The deadline for Natale would be Oct. 20.
Natale may have to wait another six months if he misses this deadline.
Natale said he's not worried. "There is no sense of urgency to get this in now until we get some things resolved," he said.
Rera said Natale still has the deck stacked against him to win approval for the project.
Residents filed a protest petition before the postponed June hearing that requires the higher hurdle of four, not three, of the five Town Board members to approve the rezoning.
Rera also said he and his fellow residents are buttonholing candidates for Town Board, seeking their views on the project, and several have either expressed doubts about it or vowed outright to oppose the proposal if elected in November.
Natale, for his part, acknowledges the fight he faces in gaining approval for his project, and he said he hopes new board members are open to new development that is done appropriately.
"Nothing's easy in the development world," Natale said.