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WARD TRIES TO BLOCK CENTERPOINTE PERMIT AMHERST SUPERVISOR TELLS VILLAGE HEARING THAT PROJECT WENT 'TOO FAR'

Amherst Town Supervisor Daniel Ward urged the Village of Williamsville Monday to deny a road access permit sought for the Centerpointe development, telling more than 120 residents at a hearing that the project was allowed to go "too far" by earlier town administrations.

Ward's surprise appearance at the hearing also included an offer to work more closely with the village in the future.

His comments came during a long and sometimes emotional discussion of the Centerpointe office and residential complex built by the Ciminelli Development Co. southeast of the Sheridan Drive-Evans Street intersection. The hearing, Williamsville Deputy Mayor Yvonne Kaye said, was the "climax of 3 1/2 years" of village debate on the project.

The Village Board, acting on a request by Ciminelli attorneys to speed the process, announced it has rescheduled a special meeting on the roadway permit from July 23 to July 9.

"We're striving for a vote," said Mrs. Kaye. "If we all come to a consensus, there will be a vote."

Ward, a longtime opponent of the development started under the administration of former Town Supervisor Jack Sharpe, said the audience of Williamsville residents was "typically but thoroughly against" granting the permit for a "curb cut," allowing Centerpointe access to Essjay Road.

Anthony J. Renaldo, an attorney for Ciminelli, said he was pleased at the rescheduling of the vote, but not surprised at Ward's recommendation that the permit be rejected.

"He made it plain he was speaking for himself, and he was not representing the town board," Renaldo said.

Town support of the project, Ward admitted, may not change because of a "hardening of attitudes" during years of debate and court action on the project.

"This one is kind of a hard one," he added. "I don't know if the rest of the town board is going to change on it."

The Village Board's vote on the permit will be reviewed in State Supreme Court, where an on-going court case is itself likely to be appealed by whichever side loses. The developer, Renaldo noted, has argued that the village has no legal right to decide the issue.

By approving the project without dealing with the major impacts on the village, Ward said, the town and county "kind of made war on the village."

While attorneys for Ciminelli argued during the hearing that "the Village of Williamsville is not an island," angry residents countered that "the Village of Williamsville is not a Thruway, either."

Ciminelli has fought for three years for a secondary access road to the complex. At present, the only roads to Centerpointe are from Sheridan Drive.

Development company attorney William J. Regan, the hearing's first speaker, argued that repeated traffic studies have found the Essjay Road connection to be the best alternative and that the town's approval of the Centerpointe project actually requires Ciminelli to connect the development either to Evans Street or to Rinewalt and Academy streets.

"Despite all of the emotional rhetoric about 'village interests' voiced by the opponents of this intersection, the critical issue always has been, and remains now, whether or not this intersection will create the safest means of managing the traffic flow in this area," he said.

"The same amount of traffic's going to be generated whether the curb cut is there or not," Renaldo added.

Residents, though, said development traffic through neighboring village streets will have a major impact on the village.

"We want to preserve the quality of life, and the ambiance of the government," said Peggy Santillo, president of the Homeowners Coalition for Preservation.

"If the permit is denied, the developer doesn't have secondary access to the site and he'll have to go back to the drawing board," she added.

Mrs. Santillo's testimony at one point criticized Frank Ciminelli as taking profits while saying he was fulfilling a community need -- a comment that drew a heated response from the developer, characterized by witnesses as an "outburst."

While the homeowner group leader said she wasn't intimidated by the incident, Renaldo criticized what he termed her "attempt with a broad brush to destroy a man of his reputation in the community."

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