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SALE OF SENIOR CENTER AT LOWER PRICE STIRS DEBATE

The Amherst Town Board voted, 4-3, Monday to sell the former senior center on North Union Road for $650,000 -- amid much debate and speculation over a last-minute inquiry from an unnamed buyer willing to pay more for the building.

Iskalo Development earlier this year offered $900,000 for the center, which it plans to convert into office space. The company cut its offer by nearly one-third this month after the Planning Board refused to let it add 18 parking spaces in front of the building.

For council members who were committed to getting the amount originally offered, the reduced purchase price was too low.

"I honestly view this as a $250,000 giveaway of the taxpayers' money," said Council Member William L. Kindel.

"I think this is a kind of raid on the treasury," said Council Member Daniel J. Ward.

Some of the funds will be used to offset the cost of the new senior center. The remaining $300,000 will be earmarked for capital improvement projects this year. That amount would have been nearly doubled had the town received the original sale price that Iskalo offered.

Even for those who voted to approve the deal, the selling price was a letdown.

"I am not thrilled with the $650,000 purchase price," said Council Member Jane S. Woodward. "If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that it has taken too long and it hasn't gone exactly as planned."

Complicating matters beyond the sometimes strained negotiations with Iskalo, town officials Monday received a letter from Steve Blake, a broker with CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

According to his letter, Blake had a client who was interested in the building. The unnamed client did not need parking in front but would need an expansion equivalent to the 4,250-square-foot addition Iskalo needs.

And the client was willing to pay "in excess" of $650,000 -- although exactly how much more was unclear.

The possibility of a better deal swayed some council members to oppose Iskalo's offer.

While Woodward and Council Member Bob Brewer both deemed Iskalo's offer as "a bird in the hand," Kindel, Ward and Supervisor Susan J. Grelick wanted to hold out for a better deal.

"I think we can find a bigger bird," Grelick said. "I think we owe it to the taxpayers to get the maximum amount we can."

Voting with Woodward and Brewer in support of the sale were Michael G. McGuire and Richard A. Wojtowicz.

Supporters of the sale cited the uncertainty of being able to seal a deal with another potential buyer, especially after the $650,000 offer was reported in the newspaper. They also voiced concerns about the cost of maintaining the building while another buyer was sought.

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