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After more than two years of looking for a way to protect a piece of canal-front land from development, Amherst has received a gift from Albany it hopes will get the job done.

The $200,000 grant, obtained by Assemblyman James P. Hayes, R-Amherst, will be used to buy 19 acres on Tonawanda Creek Road that fronts on the Erie Canal.

"This is great news," Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said last week.

Town officials hope the grant will cover the purchase the land, owned by the State Canal Corp.

The Canal Corp.'s development plans for the property called for a boating complex with a restaurant and retail stores. That provoked strong opposition from town residents, who wanted the land to remain largely open space with some recreation facilities, including a ball field already on the site.

Amherst officials, therefore, have been looking for a way to preserve the land as a park and recreation site.

The town had discussed leasing the land from the Canal Corp., but the cost raised concerns among some town officials, including Hayes, a former Town Board member.

The proposed 20-year lease, according to Hayes and Grelick, would have cost more than $400,000 over that period. At that point, Grelick pointed out, the Canal Corp. still would own the land.

During lease discussions, the Canal Corp. said the land, if used for commercial purposes, was worth about $391,000, according to Hayes. But during negotiations over leasing the land to the town, the Canal Corp. said the land was worth about $10,000 an acre -- or slightly less than $200,000, Hayes and Grelick said.

"We are hoping $200,000 will satisfy the Canal Corp.," Grelick said. "We want to make sure it remains open space and public recreation land."

Hayes said he is optimistic the Canal Corp. will accept $200,000 because it recently sold a 38-acre parcel of canal-front land to the Town of Pendleton for $310,000.

The Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the Thruway Authority, has been looking to sell or lease waterfront parcels from North Tonawanda to Albany to rejuvenate areas along the canal and attract tourists.

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