Neighbors on Berkley and Oakwood drives in Amherst have been seeing a lot of Robert Nuchereno the last few months.
He has paid personal visits to the homes of many neighbors. Others he has talked with by telephone. Just about everybody in the neighborhood has heard from him.
"He came by and talked to us," said Steven Burley, an Oakwood Drive resident. "He was going up and down the street talking to everybody."
Nuchereno is not trying to sell anything or running for office. And he's not soliciting donations. What he's looking for are signatures.
Nuchereno, a broker with Berlow Real Estate, owns 43 acres of vacant land on Wehrle Drive in southeast Amherst. He wants to develop that land for commercial use, but first he has to get it rezoned. And that might not be easy.
The last time a developer tried to rezone that land, neighbors rallied in opposition.
Right now, that property is zoned for single-family houses. But the last time a developer tried to build houses there, in 1990, the project suffered an early death.
Back then, town planners asked the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to take a look at the plans for a subdivision there. Town officials were concerned about Cimato Bros. plans to build 140 houses there, because the land lies directly in the flight path for Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
The NFTA determined that noise levels in that area were quite high. "We responded that it was incompatible with, or unsuitable for, residential development," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, director of public affairs for the NFTA. Soon after that, the project was halted.
About eight years later, Cimato decided to get the property rezoned for research and development, a classification that would cover a few options, including light industrial, warehouses and offices. Neighbors, though, fought that rezoning with a vengeance.
They collected enough signatures on a protest petition to force a supermajority vote on the Town Board, meaning that the board would need six votes instead of four to approve the rezoning. Once residents filed the petition, Cimato dropped the rezoning effort.
"Once we got the petition filed and verified, (Cimato) knew he couldn't get the votes on the Town Board," said Joanne Rhodes, who lives on Berkley.
Nuchereno bought the property less than a year ago. Now he is asking for the same rezoning -- to research and development -- that neighbors so fiercely opposed. The Amherst Planning Board will consider his request during a meeting at 7:30 tonight in Town Hall. The board will make a recommendation to the Town Board, which ultimately will decide the issue.
Unlike Cimato, Nuchereno is taking an active approach, trying to head off neighborhood opposition before the project gets to the Town Board. He has gone door-to-door on the streets adjacent to his property, asking residents to sign a statement saying they support a rezoning to research and development, as long as there is a 100-foot buffer zone between their property line and any building on Nuchereno's land.
About two dozen neighbors have signed to show support for the rezoning. "He told us there's going to be a commercial zone, not very noisy," Burley said. "We'd prefer that than a bunch of houses."
"I saw the blueprints, and he showed me the buffer zone. That was 75 percent of my concern. The 100-foot buffer would make us happy," said Thomas Sy, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Western New York, which owns a group home on Oakwood.
Some other neighbors, though, still vow to block any commercial development in their back yard.
"The problem is: That parcel is the only undeveloped land left in our little conclave of southeast Amherst," Rhodes said. "The rezoning he's requesting is something called research and development. It sounds good, but it really isn't."
What it probably would be, Rhodes said, is "warehousing."