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DEC faults Muir Woods plans as incomplete

Five years after Ciminelli Development Co. unveiled plans for one of the area's largest office and residential developments, state environmental officials say they still have too little information to make decisions on the 330-acre Muir Woods project.

In a five-page letter to the company last month, Steven J. Doleski, regional permit administrator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, rejected the developer's application for a wetlands permit, saying it was based on "conceptual plans" instead of detailed information.

A Ciminelli official expressed confidence that the company will satisfy all the state's complaints and obtain the needed permits.

Doleski also said the state notified the company in two previous letters that it "cannot accept a permit application based on conceptual plans."

He, nevertheless, said state regulators reviewed the company's plans and continue to have other concerns, including:

A 100-foot buffer area that encroaches on neighboring properties.

Plans to establish a wetland that could endanger a sensitive area in Amherst's Veterans Park.

The company's apparent misreading of the state's law about building in wetlands.

Meaghan Boice-Green, DEC spokeswoman, said the law, the state's basic protection for wetlands, bans development unless an applicant can show no alternative.

Ciminelli Vice President David Chiazza said the company is reviewing the state's comments, so he could not go into detail. But he said, "None of them, we believe, are insurmountable obstacles to our company applying for and obtaining a wetland permit."

Chiazza also disagreed with Doleski's remarks, saying the company's application contained a large amount of information.

"In some cases we think the information is there and they just didn't connect the dots," he said.

Unveilled in 2000, Muir Woods, off the Lockport Expressway near Audubon Parkway, was to be the most ambitious project Ciminelli has undertaken. The company bought the land for $1.37 million from the state's Urban Development Corp. and announced plans for a huge office, residential and recreational development.

Residents call the entire area environmentally sensitive. Muir Woods has a large lake and many wetlands. A 1,200-acre nature preserve sits across North French Road.

Last week, some Amherst lawmakers expressed anger after learning the company plans to turn 30 acres of the town's Veterans Park into wetlands to replace Muir Woods sites it intends to develop.

The plans, which do not require the company to pay for the use of the park, have received the blessing of the town's Planning Department, Chiazza said.

"That's just outrageous. That's just going too far," Council Member Daniel Ward said.

And Council Member Shelly Schratz said the town's actions have made the developer look bad.

"I'm not saying its a bad project or a good project," she said. "I blame the town for giving them the OK before talking to the Town Board. We're always the last to know."

From the DEC viewpoint, Boice-Green said that the company's plan appears to provide conflicting information about wetlands development and other key matters.

The 100-foot buffer, intended to protect one wetland area, overlaps on about a dozen neighboring properties along Campbell Boulevard, and the DEC will require the company to secure rights to the land from the owners, she said.

Other problems involve how the company expects to protect the environment during construction and manage drainage problems.

State officials also are concerned that the company is establishing an area that could impound more than 3 million gallons of water, which would require a dam safety permit, she said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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