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GROUP SEEKS TO ENSURE TOWN ANSWERS DEC CONCERNS AT MUIR WOODS

One of the largest developments ever proposed for Amherst faces more scrutiny on the potential impact on traffic, wetlands and wildlife, now that the state's environmental agency has raised serious concerns.

But opponents of the Muir Woods project say Amherst has a history of being developer-friendly, and that makes them uneasy.

"We are going to be vigilant in making sure that they will include what they should include," said Richard Lippes, who represents the Northwest Amherst Residents Association, one of the project's biggest critics.

Town officials are embarking on a closer look at the questions raised by the state Department of Conservation about the 326-acre Ciminelli Development project, which is off Dodge and North French roads.

The DEC made its concerns clear about wetlands, roads, groundwater and drainage at a public hearing before the town Planning Board in late October.

"The town will have to work closely with the DEC," said Gary Black, Amherst's assistant planning director, to determine if remedies to the problems exist.

"If an issue is raised of substantive concern, it will be addressed," Black said.

But Lippes criticized the town for undertaking the review. The DEC's worries must be addressed if the project is to win the wetland permit needed to go forward.

He said the town should have required the developer to come up with answers to the DEC's concerns first.

"I think the methodology the town is following is wrong," he said.

The proposed $180 million project tentatively includes the construction of 1.5 million square feet of office space that will be intertwined with nature trails, wetlands, woods and a lake.

In addition, Ciminelli plans to develop 360,000 square feet of residential space and 250,000 square feet of mixed-use space that will include a combination of apartments, townhouses, restaurants and shops.

The project has been controversial from the moment it was unveiled, with residents protesting and marching on Town Hall to stop it.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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