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Suit threatened if rezoning blocks plans for Wal-Mart

An attorney for two owners of property on Millersport Highway accused Amherst officials Wednesday of being "anti-development" and using "unlawful" tactics to block a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter and other projects.

Attorney Jeffrey D. Palumbo said his clients, James Collins and developer Anthony Cimato, are prepared to sue Amherst if officials continue efforts to rezone their properties at 2615 Millersport and at Millersport and New Road.

Palumbo urged officials to halt plans to "downzone" the two sites, which would change their classifications and limit development.

He said he does not dispute the town's right to rezone the land but said any such action must be undertaken as part of a master plan. He said he had attended a recent board meeting at which, instead of discussing a master plan, officials told residents they were using the zoning changes to block developments.

"Those downzonings were in direct response to complaints from neighbors. [Town officials'] original intent was to block development. Their words are going to count more than their actions," he said.

He also described officials' recent comments linking the rezonings to the town's comprehensive plan as a ruse.

A study of the area released this week by the town Planning Department recommends reclassifying Cimato's property as a "traditional neighborhood district." This would allow mixed uses, including low density single family housing and small commercial buildings.

Palumbo first issued his warnings in a letter last week to Supervisor Satish B. Mohan. Mohan did not return calls seeking his comments.

But Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones said, "There is no vested right to any particular zoning. In theory, the government could come in and rezone your house from residential to commercial."

And Council Member Shelly Schratz rejected Palumbo's complaint, calling the proposed zoning changes an attempt to deal with serious drainage and flooding problems in the Millersport Highway area.

"I represent the residents of the town. He represents developers. I represent the good of all the town, not just developers," she said.

"This is not about Wal-Mart, this is about drainage and the master plan," she added.

Palumbo's letter warned Mohan that if the town persisted, "lawsuits will follow."

"The purpose of this letter is to put the Town of Amherst on notice that the clients I represent . . . will not tolerate this unlawful action on the part of the Town Board," Palumbo wrote.

Cimato owns 67 acres along Millersport between New and Smith roads, the announced site of a 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. But area residents are fighting the proposal, claiming that the site is prone to flooding and that the development would increase the risks to homes in the area, where some already are sinking and cracking because of soil conditions.

Palumbo acknowledged that the site is in Amherst's floodplain, which covers nearly a quarter of the town. But he said the company is conducting an environmental assessment to determine what steps must be taken to develop the site.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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