Amherst officials are preparing to set a March 26 deadline for new proposals for the St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse, but concerned residents showed up at Monday's Town Board meeting to urge that any redevelopment be narrowly limited.
As it stands, officials hope to hear a wide range of proposals, including some to reuse the building as a senior citizens complex.
But a handful of speakers warned the board not to consider any use that would call for rezoning the building -- including as office space or a senior citizens development.
"Residents are extremely concerned about what the use is going to be," former Council Member Penny F. Zeplowitz said.
Council Member Bob Brewer and others claim the town needs to encourage a variety of proposals so as not to repeat its past problems in finding a developer.
But after the meeting, Zeplowitz said area residents want to protect and preserve the 80-acre park surrounding the motherhouse by minimizing traffic and preventing redevelopments that would detract from a park atmosphere.
"As a former council member, I am well aware of what can happen when you open the door to a zoning that can call for higher traffic . . . . If you give somebody an inch, they can come in with a mile's worth of development," she said.
A year ago, Amherst agreed to sell the motherhouse to Peregrine Development of Syracuse, which proposed to turn it into a senior citizens development. However, the company has been unable to obtain backing from federal housing officials needed to make the project financially viable.
As a result, Amherst officials have drafted a new request for proposals that, among other things, suggests rezoning the property would be appropriate.
Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said the board would meet in special session Monday afternoon to approve the final wording of the request for proposals.
And that has many residents nervous.
One of them, Ellen V. Weissman, urged the board to delete language from the new request for proposals to rule out uses not compatible with the present zoning. At present, the building is zoned as a community facility, preventing a wide variety of commercial uses.
Weissman, who is an attorney and member of the Amherst State Park advisory committee, said any development should be consistent with the new park.
"I am concerned that several items in the (request) . . . could lead to a significant adverse impact on the park, the environment and the neighborhood," she said.
Also joining with critics was Council Member William L. Kindel, who said he wants the town to carefully draft its request for proposals so it can satisfy residents and avoid more delays.