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If residents are upset about the prospect of a new Western Regional Off-Track Betting parlor in their neighborhood, they kept it a secret at an Amherst Planning Board meeting Thursday night.

Just two neighbors spoke at a hearing on a town-sponsored rezoning that could block OTB, and both said they oppose the rezoning of land along Wehrle Drive near South Cayuga Road, just south of Williamsville.

Meanwhile, planners had their own attendance problem. Although they hadn't met since June, three of the seven board members were absent, meaning one dissenting vote could table a project. The Wehrle-Cayuga rezoning was among a half-dozen tabled items.

Amherst officials believe neighbors oppose the OTB parlor. In an unusual display of unanimity, the Town Board officially protested the project in December 1996. "You should see the pile of (protest) mail I've gotten," Council Member Jane S. Woodward said this week.

OTB has bought the property and erected a fence around it in anticipation of opening a parlor there next year.

But Thursday's turnout was in favor of the parlor and opposed to the rezoning. OTB attorney Anthony J. Renaldo said, "Are you kidding? They love OTB around there. They (OTB) put in a nice fence around the entire site. The former owners never did that."

A woman from Post Road, which abuts the former Land O' Trees Nursery parcel on two sides, said, "We've had nothing but the best relationship with them since they bought the property. I'm in favor of OTB, and I know many of my neighbors are, too."

Wehrle resident Alice Wahler said she also wants no part of the seven-parcel rezoning that would rezone her small apartment building and one she is buying next door from "general business" to "office buildings."

Business-zoned land is worth more than office-zoned land, Renaldo said. "This would substantially devalue the land and make it absolutely useless for their (OTB) purposes," he told the planners.

Amherst officials said they initiated the rezoning of the OTB parcel and six others to head off the potential for the development of a retail strip in the Wehrle-Cayuga area. Although most of the parcels are occupied by residences, their business zoning makes them prime candidates for retail developers, according to officials.

Neighbors will have one more chance to speak on the rezoning, which now goes to the Town Board for another hearing. Renaldo said that since buying the property for more than $800,000 in 1996, OTB has put another $100,000 into it, including $50,000 for the fence. OTB has said the new parlor will replace one on Maryvale Drive in Cheektowaga.

In other business, doctors in an adjoining medical office complex pleaded unsuccessfully for a parking lot connection that would permit their patients to use the traffic light that will be installed in front of a large office park under construction on Main Street, east of Youngs Road. Left turns out of their office complex onto Main are difficult to impossible, depending on the time of day, several physicians told the board.

But when it came time to vote on the site plan for the second and final phase of the 230,000-square-foot Village Park Business Center by Ciminelli Development Co., the plan passed unanimously without further mention of the alleged traffic hazard next door.

Renaldo said Ciminelli has spent more than $100,000 on the traffic light, left turn lanes and a traffic study and would face added insurance liability if the medical complex were connected to its 960-space parking lot.

"Their traffic problem is their problem," Renaldo told the Planning Board. Renaldo and planners noted the new signal will create a "gap" in traffic that will allow cars to get safely out of the medical complex next door.

The Planning Board also approved site plans for:

Two golf cart tunnels under Youngs Road, between Main and Sheridan Drive, to make it safer for golfers at the Country Club of Buffalo.

A 55,133-square-foot addition to the Remarketing Services of America building at John Glenn Drive and North French Road.

Two 28,200-square-foot buildings in the new Northpointe business and industrial park in the Sweet Home-North French area, a 10,000-square-foot office building in Audubon Place at 2293 Millersport Highway, and a Hawthorne Suites hotel 77,000-square-feet larger than previously approved at 30 Flint Road off Maple Road.

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