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Rensch Road takes on UB and Amherst

When Rensch Road residents began to express their displeasure with the Town of Amherst and the University at Buffalo, a common reaction was: People live on Rensch Road?

You would know they were there only if you went looking for them. But the town and UB certainly know they're there now.

And they are not happy.

Last year, GMH Communities, a suburban-Philadelphia company, offered to buy 11 residents' homes on the L-shaped street that crosses Sweet Home Road and continues into UB. The plan was to raze the houses and replace them with a new development of 19 three-story apartment buildings that would house more than 850 students. The concept was similar to a completed development a mile away on Sweet Home and one under construction around the block on Chestnut Ridge Road.

This was especially good news to the residents because their street -- an odd collection of smallish homes, an office park, a group home and a UB archive barn -- is zoned for research and development, not residential properties. That makes selling their homes almost impossible.

As far as the residents knew, everything was going along swimmingly as the project made its way through the town bureaucracy. Then, earlier this year, UB officials said they were not thrilled with the idea of yet another private developer targeting students who might otherwise live on campus. Angry letters exchanged among various parties ensued.

Jeff Brooks has lived on Rensch Road since 1991. He retired from his printing and office supply business last year and is planning to move south with his wife. The GMH proposal was his ticket to Easy Street. Instead, he remains stuck on Rock and a Hard Place.

In order for the project to go forward, the Town Board had to rezone the land, which it did in March. That came over the objections of Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones, who warned lawmakers that their action did not follow the town master plan and that lawsuits could follow.

Jones proved prophetic in May when UB filed suit. The town subsequently revoked its earlier decision and started the process again earlier this month.

Brooks and his neighbors watched all of this with their mouths hanging open.

"If there's a problem where they're going to violate some kind of plan, this all should have come to a screeching halt three or four months ago, not when everybody is on their way out," he said.

GMH holds the rights to the 11 properties, but the sales will close only after all the necessary approvals are granted. Some of the residents already have bought their next home and are still paying for the current one.

"UB had this meeting in Williamsville to talk about their future, and the guy speaking says 'Dare to dream,' " Brooks said. "Good for you, dare to dream. My neighbors are daring to dream about where their double mortgage payment is coming from."

Sean Hopkins, the lawyer for GMH who also is working with Rensch Road residents, said UB should be supporting the project, not suing to try to stop it.

"Their position is they don't understand UB's opposition," he said. "They feel they're going to be meeting a need that UB is not currently fulfilling and they're going to do it in a very professional way that is going to be an amenity to UB."

The town Planning Board is expected to take up the issue Thursday. The town, the developer and UB all expect to be in court soon.

Meanwhile, on Rensch Road, the moving vans are idling.

e-mail: bandriatch@buffnews.com

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