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AMHERST DEBATES POSSIBLE USES FOR STATE-OWNED PARCEL

A For Sale sign hangs on a few hundred acres of undeveloped land in north Amherst left over from once-grandiose plans that never really panned out.

And the sale is attracting attention.

The site -- zoned for a mix of residential and commercial purposes -- apparently has sparked interest among developers.

Some town officials, who see Amherst open space dwindling, want the land for recreation.

And one Amherst family has been campaigning to leave the land alone. The sale could force Carole Miller and her mother, Patricia Dashnaw, out of the house they've been renting at a modest price for 30 years.

"I would just like to leave it the way it is," said Miller, who rents the garage apartment on the state-owned property along North French Road. "In the summertime, the trees are absolutely gorgeous. I don't want to see anything happen to it at all."

The 330 acres -- bounded by the Lockport Expressway to the south, North French Road to the north, Sweet Home Road to the west and Campbell Boulevard to the east -- are owned by Empire State Development Corp. and remain the agency's last large parcel from an Amherst venture that never lived up to expectations.

The land was supposed to be part of the 2,000-acre, 28,000-resident Audubon community planned in the early 1970s by the state's Urban Development Corp. -- now known as Empire State Development Corp. -- to meet a population explosion expected to come with the construction of the University at Buffalo's North Campus.

The boom never hit.

Instead, the Urban Development Corp. nearly went bankrupt. Coupled with regional and national economic factors and new state and federal wetlands regulations, the state's ambitious plan in Amherst wound up on the scrap heap.

In the end, the agency started selling off the undeveloped land -- the town was given a large chunk, which now makes up much of Nature View Park in northwest Amherst -- while the blueprint for Audubon was reduced to the Audubon Industrial Park and 850 dwellings for about 2,300 people.

What remains is 400 acres, which include the 330 acres the agency currently is trying to sell.

But Amherst Council Member Daniel J. Ward wants the town to get the land for a golf course.

Ward was among the lawmakers who imposed restrictions on Nature View Park, which hampered hopes for those lobbying for a new golf course at the 1,200-acre Nature View.

So to make peace, Ward wants the town to ask Empire State Development Corp. either to turn the property over to the town as a gift or give it to Amherst for a cheap price.

"If the town doesn't pursue this, I would say it's unlikely we'll ever have the land for another golf course in this town," said Chris Drongosky, a Snyder golfer who has been lobbying the town to build another golf course.

"It is the best site in town," said Drongosky, who suggested the state property for an 18-hole course. "The land is very conducive to building a golf course."

Some town officials -- including Supervisor Susan J. Grelick -- agree with Ward that it wouldn't hurt to talk to the state about the land. Other lawmakers with more pro-development sentiments -- including Council Member William L. Kindel, often known for taking a conservationist view -- don't want to interfere if the property can be privately developed for more tax dollars.

Besides, Kindel said, it's doubtful Empire State Development is simply going to give that land away. That is, in fact, an unlikely scenario, agency officials admitted.

"The town is welcome to bid on it," said Eric J. Mangan, a spokesman for Empire State Development Corp.

Carole Miller has been circulating a petition in the neighborhood to try to keep the land free of development altogether.

Dashnaw, her mother, has rented the house on North French Road since even before the state bought the land in the early 1970s. Dashnaw pays $235 a month to rent the house, while her daughter pays $300 a month for the garage apartment. Dashnaw, who suffers from health problems, said she can't afford to move or live somewhere else in town.

"It's as if I own the place myself," said Dashnaw. "This is our home. This is where we've lived our whole life."

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