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A local land conservancy will get $69,000 to watch over the last large piece of undeveloped land owned by Amherst and keep it forever wild.

At its last meeting of the year Monday, the Amherst Town Board voted, 4-3, to pay this stewardship fee to the Western New York Land Conservancy after a brief but bitter debate.

Supervisor Susan J. Grelick and Council Members Michael G. McGuire and Jane S. Woodward voted against the payment, saying the town should wait until the agreement is signed.

"It seems to me approving the money before seeing the agreement is inappropriate timing," Woodward said. "We're putting the cart before the horse."

Council Member William L. Kindel, who spearheaded preserving the land, and Council Members Daniel J. Ward, Peggy G. Santillo and Todd E. Shatkin voted in favor of paying the $69,000 stewardship fee.

On Dec. 6, the board, by the same 4-3 split, voted to grant the land conservancy an easement on the 1,200-acre property in the northwest corner of Amherst.

However, the board must wait 30 days from that date before signing the agreement, said Town Attorney Phillip A. Thielman.

In addition, a study by the land conservancy of the property to inventory the trees and other existing features has not been completed as promised before the end of the year, Woodward noted.

Many Democrats on the board have been in a rush to push through the project before the end of the year, and Monday night was no exception.

In January, two new Republican members will join the board -- taking the majority from the Democrats.

That's why, in early December, the conservation easement was approved so the Western New York Land Conservancy has a say in what happens to the property and can prevent future town boards from developing the parcel.

The partnership between the town and the Western New York Land Conservancy restricts the property to 20 miles of trails, limits the number of mature trees that can be cut down and allows the town to disturb only 15 percent of the property. The rest must be left as it is -- a mixture of overgrown farmland, wetlands and forest.

The property bounded by Campbell Boulevard and Sweet Home, Tonawanda Creek and North French roads was assembled from smaller parcels during the past 12 years and secured as a conservation area.

Despite pressure to use some of the property as a golf course or for other recreation facilities, the board in July decided to keep it in its natural state and has since been ironing out details with the Western New York Land Conservancy.

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