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RESIDENTS SHARE OPINIONS FOR COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

Amherst wrapped up a series of three public forums on the town's comprehensive plan Thursday, which showed that residents are most concerned about increased traffic and development.

About 50 people gathered in the Pepsi Center to share their vision of the town's future. Their input will shape the plan, which the Town Board is scheduled to adopt in late 2001.

"By far, this is the largest group," said Eric Gillert, the town's planning director.

Tuesday and Wednesday, about 30 to 40 people attended, according to staff.

The meetings weren't like those that usually take place in Town Hall. There were no long speeches; there was no bickering.

Instead, residents broke into small groups and listed to what they felt were Amherst's strengths and weaknesses. They also came up with ways to deal with the challenges facing the community.

Residents easily agreed on Amherst's strengths: safety, schools and services. Also ranking high were the town's volunteer fire departments, recreation facilities and green space.

But residents had many more complaints than compliments. At the top of their lists was too much traffic and too much development.

Residents feel that developers are influencing the decisions of town officials and that officials are not listening to residents. Many said they don't trust their elected officials. Others talked about the declining quality of life and shrinking green space.

But residents didn't just gripe. They also suggested ways to fix these problems. Some suggested a moratorium on development until this comprehensive plan is adopted.

Others wanted more services regionalized, such as schools. Other suggested a ward system, where Town Board members would be elected from different parts of Amherst. Currently, five of the seven board members live in the Williamsville/East Amherst area. The other two live in Snyder/Eggertsville.

The town's consultant will use this information in shaping the comprehensive plan. In addition, the consultants interviewed 50 "stakeholders" in the community, who ranged from developers to environmental activists to neighborhood leaders.

Much of the work for the comprehensive plan remains to be done, and officials stress that residents will have additional chances to give input along the way.

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