Amherst officials Monday called an end to a six-year legal battle over Nature View Park, appointing the Western New York Land Conservancy to oversee the 1,250-acre site in perpetuity.
"Today is a truly happy day for the people of the Town of Amherst," Supervisor Satish B. Mohan told about 200 residents attending a 15-minute contract-signing ceremony that led off the Town Board meeting. "I am pleased to sign on behalf of the town a conservation easement with [the conservancy.]"
On another matter, despite a controversy over impeachments last week, the board did not discuss giving voters the right to recall a local government official. Council Member Daniel Ward, who drew up a motion calling for a new recall law, said he withheld his motion and will submit it later in the year.
Mohan asked those in attendance to give a standing ovation to Ward and Council Member William Kindel, who supported the conservancy and at one point joined the group in suing the Town Board.
Kindel's voice cracked as he gave the history of the struggle to protect the park from development and praised area residents who worked to keep the park forever wild.
"I think we'll all go home tonight and feel real good about this," Ward said.
The agreement will not become final until it is signed by the conservancy, which has had a recent change in leadership. However, attorney Richard Lippes, who represented the conservancy, said he urged the group to take advantage of the town's willingness to sign the agreement and settle the dispute.
The conservancy will be responsible for maintaining the park in its natural state in return for a onetime payment of $69,000 from the town.
The dispute began in 2000, when an incoming Republican-controlled Town Board refused to enact a conservation agreement approved by an outgoing board, which was controlled by Democrats. The conservancy joined Ward and Kindel and filed suit to enforce the agreement, setting in motion a court battle that split the board. After losing four key court rulings, a majority of lawmakers agreed to seek a compromise.
In other business, the board unanimously amended a measure to limit "big box" stores to commercial areas of the town, including portions of Niagara Falls Boulevard north of Eggert Road, Transit Road south of Muegel Road, Sheridan Drive west of Harlem Road and Maple Road west of Millersport Highway. The latter two areas were added Monday.
The vote came after several north Amherst residents urged officials to continue fighting a Wal-Mart plan for a super-store on Millersport Highway between Smith and New roads. Some of the speakers were responding to information mailed to town residents asking for support for the store.
Also, the board voted unanimously to appoint Jeffrey Burroughs town engineer, replacing Paul M. Bowers.
Board members also agreed to a measure sponsored by Kindel setting up an enterprise fund to operate the controversial project to make fertilizer pellets from sludge.