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2 DEVELOPMENTS LIKELY TO HAVE BIG IMPACT ON SWEET HOME AREA

A pair of developments will reshape the area around Sweet Home Road in Amherst.

One, a 269-unit student housing project, is already under construction. The Planning Board will hold a special meeting Thursday on plans for the other, Muir Woods, a proposed 326-acre mixed-use development north of Dodge Road and south of North French Road.

The projects, about two miles apart, are expected to add thousands of residents to the area just off Interstate 990, raising concerns about traffic increases through neighborhoods north and west of North French.

Gary Black, Amherst's assistant planning director, said the state Department of Transportation plans to widen Sweet Home Road, which would alleviate traffic problems resulting from the student housing development.

The project by the Austin, Texas-based American Campus Communities will consist of 10 buildings that will provide dormitory living in an apartment setting.

Construction on the complex, being built across the street from Sweet Home High School, began more than a month ago and is expected to be completed by late next summer.

The project will accommodate 828 students in a combination of four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartments; two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments; and one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments.

"We're designing a project that is geared toward students and will not be attractive to families as prospective tenants," said Jason Wills, senior vice president of communications for American Campus Communities.

The complex "will include computer labs, basketball courts, tanning beds and mini-theaters," Wills said.

The proposed Muir Woods Development, a far bigger project, would be one of the largest in the town, Black said.

Based on the new urbanism concept, the Ciminelli Development subdivision would mix patio homes, townhouses and apartments with as many as 15 one-, two- and three-story office buildings.

Ciminelli wants 181 acres of the 326-acre parcel reclassified to accommodate construction of the project. An additional 126 acres, including wetlands, marsh, trails and landscaped areas, would remain open space. Plans also call for service roads and other infrastructure to serve the development.

In August 2002, about 60 residents, mostly from neighborhoods west and north of the proposed development off North French Road, attended a scoping meeting on the project that was conducted by the Planning Board to solicit residents' views on the issues they thought should be studied in the environmental impact statement for the project.

Attorney Richard Lippes, who represents Northwest Amherst Residents Association, said residents still have several concerns about the project, including its potential impact on traffic, wetlands and drainage in surrounding communities.

Ciminelli "already owns several vacant office buildings in the town. Why would he want to build more? Even from an economic view, it doesn't make a lot of sense," Lippes said.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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