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AMHERST IDA OKS FINANCING FOR STUDENT APARTMENTS AT UB

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency approved a $17 million bond financing package Friday for 116 graduate student apartments on the northwest corner of the University at Buffalo's Amherst Campus.

The new complex on Skinnersville Road will be the fourth apartment-style housing project developed on the campus in recent years. UB wants to provide more campus housing options for married and single graduate students, Clifford B. Wilson, the university's associate vice president for student affairs told the agency board.

The university has more than 20,000 full-time students, but only 6,000 reside on its Buffalo and Amherst campuses.

The head of the public school system serving neighborhoods adjacent to UB's Amherst campus and a Skinnersville Road resident both questioned the project during a public hearing.

James P. Sheehan, superintendent of the Sweet Home Public Schools, asked the board to study the impact of new apartment projects it helps finance on current residents of his district.

"Has this had an impact on the individuals who were the pioneers here and who paid for the development of the property and have paid their taxes since the 1970s?," Sheehan asked.

Sheehan believes the increased inventory could attract students now living in off campus apartment units, which would lead to higher vacancies and reduced property tax assessments.

Rita Forman of Skinnersville Road said she believes the new student housing will have a significant impact on traffic and wildlife in the neighborhood. Forman has filed a lawsuit attempting to block construction. The case is still pending in state court.

Paul Quebral, an AIDA board member, said the questions are legitimate but should be addressed by other town and state officials.

"I don't want to dismiss these concerns as not being legitimate, but they are not within the jurisdiction of this board. . . . We are not a zoning board, we're not traffic or environmental," Quebral said.

The Skinnersville Road project is being developed by the University at Buffalo Foundation Faculty-Student Housing Corp. The board vote provides no tax abatements, because both the state university and the housing corporation are already tax exempt.

The project could have done without AIDA involvement through a state bond sale by the New York State Dormitory Authority. Terrence Gilbride, an attorney with Hodgson Russ who represents UB, said AIDA industrial revenue bonds are being used because the process is less expensive and faster.

The board also approved a uniform eligibility policy being considered by six industrial development agencies within Erie County to foster a coordinated planning and economic development strategy.

The policy is almost identical to the policy the Amherst IDA has used for years. James J. Allen, executive director of the Amherst IDA, helped write the county-wide policy in his interim position as a chief executive of the Erie County IDA.

The new policy will bring significant changes to the way the larger ECIDA does business, if its board also approves the policy. The ECIDA would begin financing speculative development, where a developer builds a new office or warehouse without having any signed tenants, which it previously has not done.

The new policy would also prohibit financing of hotels. The Hampton Inn in Buffalo, which Benderson Development Company recently built with tax abatements from the ECIDA, would not have been eligible under the new policy.

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