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TOWN'S PRICE FOR DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS QUESTIONED

Since 1984, Amherst has granted only a half dozen permits for construction in a floodway.

So paying two landowners $720,000 to keep them from ever developing 215 acres of farmland -- much of it in a floodway in the northern part of town -- may not be necessary, town Building Commissioner Thomas C. Ketchum says.

Town leaders would be discouraged from rezoning the agriculture parcels to allow residential or commercial development because the town would risk being suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program, Ketchum added.

If that happened, no federally backed home mortgages, grants, loans or disaster aid would be made in the flood-hazard area, he said. The program places restrictions on development in a floodway.

Town Supervisor Susan J. Grelick is rethinking the Town Board's decision to spend $720,000 purchasing the development rights and says she will not sign contracts buying the rights until the land appraisals and surveys are scrutinized.

Supporters of the land deal said the only way to stop encroaching development is to buy the development rights to the farmland. Purchase of development rights means that the land may only be farmed or left open by current and future owners.

"There are regulations in Amherst which provide for development in a floodway," said Adam Walters, president of the Western New York Land Conservancy.

Earlier this week, the Town Board voted 7-0 to buy development rights to the parcels, calling it a first step to preserving 811 acres of farmland around Tonawanda Creek and Hopkins and Schoelles roads.

The town agreed to pay developer Anthony Cimato $356,000, or $5,000 an acre, for the rights to his 71-acre parcel and $364,000, or $2,525 an acre, to farmers Donald G. and Daniel J. Spoth for development rights to about 144 acres on three parcels.

Three-fourths of Cimato's parcel is in a floodway, Ketchum said. One Spoth parcel is completely in a floodway. Half of a second Spoth parcel is in a floodway, and about 15 percent of the third parcel is in one.

A stream's flood plain consists of two parts, Ketchum said. The floodway, which includes the channel of a stream and the overbank areas, carries most of the flowing water during a flood, sometimes at high velocity. The other part, the flood fringe, is the remaining area on the outer edges of the flood plain.

Town officials also have questioned how the appraiser who estimated the value of "development rights" accounted for the floodway and the likelihood of wetlands on the parcels.

The land conservancy obtained the appraisals and negotiated the purchase prices on behalf of the town.

Town officials said they were told Friday that the appraiser reduced the estimated value of parcels in a flood plain by 20 percent, but Ketchum said he questions whether the reduction is enough.

Appraisals for other developer-owned parcels near the Cimato land valued their development rights at about $3,600 an acre, Walters said. The rights to the Cimato parcel were valued at $2,092 an acre, he said.

"So the appraisal does take into account the floodway, and it does discount the appraised value because of the presence of the floodway," he said.

Cimato has said he won't accept less than $5,000 an acre, which would allow him to recoup his investment in the land.

Town Board members have scheduled a meeting today to review the appraisals and surveys and to decide whether to go ahead with the development rights purchases.

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