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The slowest year for new housing starts in Amherst since World War II was used Thursday night as a pitch for building 39 patio-style homes on relatively small lots off North French Road, about a half-mile from Transit Road.

Traditionally sized homes aren't selling, but smaller "empty nester" dwellings are, Jeffery D. Palumbo, attorney for developer Anthony Cimato, told a rezoning hearing called by the Amherst Planning Board.

The board, which makes recommendations on rezonings to the Town Board, voted unanimously against the rezoning request. The town's Northeast Sector Master Plan, which recommends low-density residential development in that area, should be heeded, planners said.

In also urging that the rezoning be rejected, the town Planning Department staff noted that Gott Creek crosses the southwest corner of the 14-acre parcel, with Ransom Creek running along the north property line. Both creeks are prone to spring flooding.

The creek banks are heavily wooded, with many trees also located in the center of the parcel, planners said. The soil drains poorly, there are no sidewalks on North French, the area has a high deer population, and there are about 25 acres of vacant land on the other side of North French already zoned for what Cimato has in mind, planners also reported.

Palumbo noted that only about 70 building permits for new homes have been issued in the town this year, well off the pace of last year when the total of 116 permits was the fewest since World War II.

A big Golden Gate subdivision, located nearby, "is having great difficulty selling any lots in its final phase," Palumbo said. "The market is for what we're proposing . . . single-family homes on small lots."

Palumbo asserted the patio home project would have a lower density of dwellings per acre than traditional residential zoning and result in far fewer school children. The parcel has been before the town several times in recent years, with condominiums or single-family homes proposed.

Three speakers spoke against and one spoke in favor of the rezoning. George Richmond of Wedgewood Drive called the plan "urban sprawl in its worst sense." Mary Ann Avery of the Amherst Conservation Advisory Council said, "It's between two creeks and a floodway -- why ask for trouble?"

In other business, the University at Buffalo Rowing Club's search for a site for its own boat storage building ended as the Planning Board unanimously approved plans for a 6,000-square-foot structure in the town's new Veterans Canal Park on the Erie Barge Canal. Three neighbors on nearby Brenon Road spoke in opposition, citing increased traffic and worries about being awakened by the club's 6 a.m. daily practices.

Last spring, trustees of the Amherst Museum and neighbors objected to plans to erect the prefabricated metal boat house on town-owned land across from the museum at Tonawanda Creek and New roads, a couple of miles east of Veterans Canal Park. Town officials rejected the location for a boat house, suggesting the new Canal Park instead.

Land for the boat house will be leased from the state Thruway Authority. Plans show a paved path to the water and a connection to the town's Barge Canal foot and bike path. Amherst will be able to use some space in the boat house for youth rowing activities, officials said.

The board also:

Recommended Town Board approval of rezoning 1.9 acres on the west side of Sweet Home Road, 380 feet north of North French, for two one-story, 20,000-square-foot office buildings by North Forest Development of Amherst.

Recommended denial of rezoning a half-acre at 220 Campbell Blvd. for a two-family dwelling after several residents protested that it is a single-family-home neighborhood.

Approved plans for Les Chateaux at Overbrook, a 42-unit expansion of the Overbrook condominium complex on Chestnut Ridge Road.

Approved plans for a chiropractor's office at 6035 Main after being assured that the doctor and his neighbors had reached agreement on screening and that there be no driveway to adjacent Oakland Road.

Approved plans for a self-service storage business at 2681 Niagara Falls Blvd. near Irwin Place.

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