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Muir Woods wetlands trade questioned

Ciminelli Development Co. wants to turn 30 acres of Amherst's Veterans Park into a wetland area to replace natural wetlands it plans to use as part the 330-acre Muir Woods project.

The proposal, filed last month with state and federal regulators, has the blessing of the town Planning Department, a company official confirmed Monday.

Under the proposal, Ciminelli would pay nothing to use the park acreage, but has agreed to improve trails and public access points at Veterans and nearby Nature View Park.

Ciminelli Vice President David Chiazza called the company's arrangement a "collaborative" effort with the town and said Amherst has "wanted to do something with Veterans Park for a long time."

However, a spokesman for residents near the Muir Woods site said the town is giving the company a gift.

"I object to it from the standpoint that we're giving a resource away," said spokesman James Monroe. "Why shouldn't we be selling the right to put a wetlands there?"

According to Monroe, entrepreneurs in other parts of the country have begun creating wetlands for development companies needing them as replacement areas, and charging the companies for the property.

"If the town was to sell the rights to it, they could be getting $15,000 an acre," Monroe said. "That's $450,000 in revenue that the town could develop."

But Chiazza said the town has not asked for such a payment and the company is not offering one. Instead, the agreement calls for Ciminelli to "complete the town's original plan for Veterans Park," which includes a wetlands area.

The park, at Hopkins and Tonawanda Creek roads, now has a boat launch leading to Tonawanda Creek.

Late Monday, one Town Board member expressed anger over the Ciminelli proposal, saying the board knew nothing about it.

"This is insane," Council Member William L. Kindel said. "I wouldn't be in favor of that. It never came in front of the Town Board. Why would we take 30 acres of a corn field and turn it into a wetland? Why would you want to destroy that?"

Board members voted, 6-1, Monday to reopen the period for taking public comments on the project after developers made changes in the environmental report dealing with traffic congestion. However, there was no mention during the board meeting of the Veterans Park proposal.

Nevertheless, Chiazza said town planners have long wanted to make improvements to Veterans Park, but the board has not set aside funds.

And, when the company began to seek an area off site to replaced wetlands used in the development of part of Muir Woods' natural wetlands, town planners agreed that Veterans Park would be the best location.

"Politically, we understand that most of the planning staff advocate that if we're going to make investments in wetlands, they'd like to keep it in the town, versus outside the town, where people can't appreciate it or take advantage of it," Chiazza said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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