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New zoning would block Wal-Mart on Amherst site Plan includes ending floodway development

Town planners Monday recommended rezoning hundreds of acres of property along the Millersport Highway corridor in northeast Amherst, including the proposed site of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Wal-Mart, which has announced plans for a 200,000-square-foot superstore along Millersport between Smith and New roads, began preparations last week for an environmental study of the site. But the zoning change, if approved by the Town Board, automatically would prevent construction of the Wal-Mart store, officials said.

Instead of acres of retail properties anchored by a superstore, planners say the area should become a "traditional neighborhood district."

After the meeting, Assistant Planning Director Gary B. Black said the recommended zoning would permit a mixture of small commercial properties and low-density housing. The largest allowable retail establishment would be about a tenth of the size of the store planned by the Arkansas giant.

The report, which the Town Board ordered Jan. 17, is expected to become part of the town's comprehensive master plan, to be presented to the board next month for adoption.

According to the town's study, most of the corridor consists of vacant land, single-family detached homes and commercial properties. It also includes "a substantial amount of largely vacant commercial zoning," Planning Director Eric W. Gillert told board members.

"Many of the zonings are remnants of the Ransom Oaks planning," dating back more than three decades, Gillert said. The report also recommends an end to development on the Ransom Creek floodway, which signals a
change in attitude since the election of Supervisor Satish B. Mohan.

More than 20 years ago, Amherst lobbied federal officials for an exemption to allow new housing on the floodplains. Since then, the town has permitted the building of hundreds of homes in floodplain areas.

But Mohan and other board members have made it clear they no longer favor development on the northeast Amherst's floodplains, which make up nearly a quarter of the town.

In other action, the board met in special session to hear a report on the proposed purchase of a church at 4110 Bailey Ave. for use as the long-awaited Eggertsville Community Center.

Mohan, however, moved to table the proposal for further study after Town Engineer Jeffrey Burroughs reported that the property will require almost $900,000 in repairs and improvements -- bringing the town's total cost to acquire and rehabilitate the church to about $1.4 million.


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