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Amherst acts to restrict building 1-year moratorium targets flood plain

Heeding pleas from dozens of residents, Amherst Town Board members voted, 4-3, early this morning to impose a one-year moratorium on all new construction in the town's flood plain.

The measure, sponsored by Council Member Shelly Schratz, sets April 24 as the date for a public hearing on the moratorium.

"It's time that the town put the interests of all the residents first. We need a proactive approach to address flooding and drainage problems before any more development in that area is approved," Schratz said.

If approved after the hearing, the measure would halt all residential and commercial development for up to a year in most of northeast Amherst, an area of problem soils and frequent floods. The flood plain covers a quarter of the town, according to town officials.

At least one large development will likely be affected by the action -- a proposal to build a Wal-Mart superstore on Millersport Highway between Smith and New roads.

However, Schratz said the moratorium is not aimed at one development or property owner.

"It's about the entire problem. This is the epicenter of where the problems are in Amherst," she said.

Schratz also said she does not want to see "continuous battles, parcel to parcel, over how each development will affect drainage in that part of town."

Supervisor Satish B. Mohan also expressed strong support for the moratorium, adding that he also is preparing to ask the board to adopt Amherst's new master plan, a step that lawmakers shunned last year.

Once the master plan is officially in place, it should eliminate disputes over each development site, town officials say.

Dozens of residents spoke out about flooding and drainage problems during the 7 1/2 -hour meeting, and most had gone home by the time the board took up Schratz's call for the moratorium.

In other action, lawmakers joined with Amherst officials and leaders of the Western New York Land Conservancy in celebrating the signing of a conservation easement protecting the 1,200-acre Nature View Park, in northwest Amherst.

Mohan hailed the agreement, saying it puts to rest litigation that has cost this town more than $68,000 -- money that could have been used for the park.

Mohan also called the park unique because of its size and the protection that the conservancy will give the site.

"Nowhere in New York State does a town have such lands available to its citizens for their education and inspiration," he said.
Under the agreement, the conservancy will oversee the park in its natural state in perpetuity, but the town retains ownership of the park.

The dispute began in 2000, when town officials agreed to the easement but a succeeding Town Board refused to sign the agreement.

The conservancy, joined by two town officials, Council Members William L. Kindel and Daniel J. Ward, filed suit against the town. In the years that followed, Amherst lost four major court rulings before agreeing last year to settle the dispute.

Mohan said the new park will give visitors "inspiration, education and memories."

Andrew Giarrizzo, president of the conservancy's board, said, "Great things are accomplished when people work together."

After hearing residents' tales of rats invading homes and neighborhoods in Eggertsville, Williamsville and nearby areas, the board approved a plan to eradicate the rodents, educate residents about health issues and improve garbage disposal.

Elizabeth Ward, one of a handful of speakers, told officials that she and other neighbors in Eggertsville have caught as many as two or three rats a day. Ward also said a neighbor was standing in her kitchen recently when a rat jumped from a cupboard onto her shoulder.

Under Mohan's measure, the town will procure about 35,000 rodent-proof totes for residents to use.

The law also would provide for the "lawful entry upon private property by town officials -- for the purposes of investigating and enforcing the ordinance."

It also calls for new laws to regulate the feeding of birds and other animals, and improve the disposal of animal feces and solid wastes. It also allows for the hiring of private exterminators and tighter enforcement of rodent control laws.

During an afternoon work session, Mohan cited a report in Sunday's Buffalo News that rat complaints have soared in areas bordering the City of Buffalo after the city began using totes for garbage disposal.

In another matter, Town Comptroller Maureen Cilano announced her resignation.

Mohan did not reappoint her after he took office, but kept her on temporarily. She indicated Monday that she was not comfortable with that arrangement.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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