Four months ago, when it looked as though a senior citizen development was coming into his North Forest Road neighborhood, raising traffic and safety concerns among residents, Mark Utech organized his neighbors to oppose the project.
The residents won that fight.
Utech was pleased. But he thought there was more to be done.
So the 33-year-old co-owner of a basement waterproofing company continued attending Town Board and town planning sessions and noticed people from other parts of town were also concerned that some development decisions were affecting their quality of life.
Utech contacted some of the people attending the meetings and organized what is considered the first townwide citizens activist group aimed at maintaining neighborhood quality of life in Amherst.
"I saw the issues we were dealing with are happening everywhere and thought, 'Why don't we just try to come together,' " Utech said.
The Amherst Quality of Life Coalition now has about 35 members, most from communities where residents have organized to fight a specific development being considered by the town. Some of the residents have worked together in the past, but never to this extent.
Utech spoke publicly for the first time in his role as coalition chairman at a town Planning Board meeting last week, opposing an office building on Sheridan Drive and Bauman Road that neighborhood residents are against.
Later, Utech said the coalition is not against development. The group just wants to see residents able to maintain their quality of life. And it wants residents on an equal playing field with developers in Town Hall.
"We are not anti-development," Utech said. "We want to maintain quality of life. We are interested in a fair government."
To that end, the coalition is serving as an information center for neighborhood residents on how to get their views known in Town Hall.
Different neighborhood groups who have fought rezonings or development issues on their streets share knowledge and tactics with others confronting similar issues.
The group is also taking a political stand and has endorsed a Democratic Town Board slate it feels is more likely to listen to residents' views. One key reason for that, Utech said, is the Democratic candidates vowed not to accept campaign contributions from developers.
Margaret Gleason is among those who have taken advice from the coalition. Gleason credited the group with helping her neighborhood oppose a rezoning that the Sheridan Drive/Bauman Road neighborhood felt would change the character of its community.
In that case, the Planning Board sided with the residents.
Planning Board member Paul A. Beyer, who has advocated creation of a townwide neighborhood activist group, said he is glad to see the coalition.
Beyer last year organized residents from different parts of the town who rallied against the Town Board for allowing too much commercial development in their neighborhoods. Many of the people in last year's rally have joined the coalition.
"It's great," Beyer said. "A townwide group gives a more holistic perspective, as opposed to individual groups that only talk about their own back yard."
Utech, in fact, is interested in townwide issues and says he would like to see some redevelopment in Eggertsville and Snyder, the older parts of Amherst.
Eventually, Utech said, h would like to see the developmentment of a Eric County quality-of-life coalition.