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New wrinkles put into Amherst Town Centre project Plan adds theater, parking garage

The controversial $44 million Amherst Town Centre project by Benderson Development Co. now includes new plans for a movie theater and a four-level parking garage that was not part of the original concept plan approved by the Town Board in June.

"It's certainly different than what was shown to the board previously," said Assistant Planning Director Gary Black.

The board had voted, 4-3, to approve rezoning for the 34-acre "lifestyle center" project at the site of the former Buffalo Shooting Club on Maple Road after months of contentious discussion.

The plan originally depicted close-clustered buildings in a village design, featuring specialty retail along with a hotel, office and apartment spaces, restaurants, a public plaza and a 4.5-acre park fronting the street. Condominiums would anchor the west end of the property.

In site plans submitted to the Amherst Planning Department last month, the layout of the project remains generally the same, but a number of changes are evident.

The biggest revolves around a 50,000-square-foot building anchoring the east end of the parcel. That building had originally been depicted in concept drawings as a large square building dedicated to retail and/or restaurant space.

Benderson representatives had previously suggested the building might house a single, specialty retailer not currently located in the greater Buffalo market.

But the site plans submitted to the Planning Department last month now call for a rectangular-shaped building that would house a 1,960-seat movie theater, Black said.

Council Member Mark Manna, who voted against the development in June and serves as liaison to the Planning Department, said he is disappointed with the site plan changes.

"This whole thing was supposed to be unique, offer people a unique experience," he said. "There's already probably half a dozen movie theaters in a five-mile radius."

Judy Ferraro, spokeswoman for The Fairways Group, an organization of neighbors who are fighting the project, said the movie theater plans prove that giving Benderson a general business zoning designation was a mistake.

A movie theater isn't what the community wants, she said.

"That's exactly what we need here just after we've had one torn down," Ferraro said, referring to the former University 8 Cinemas at 4100 Maple Road that closed in March 2004.

AMC Theatres operates the Maple Ridge 8 theaters in the Maple Ridge Plaza at the corner of Maple and Sweet Home roads.

The revised plans also call for a 692-space parking garage adjacent to the theater that would consist of four levels, including one underground level, Black said. The garage would be located on the northeast end of the parcel so much of it would be hidden from the street.

Benderson representatives could not be reached to comment Wednesday, but planning officials said they are still reviewing the revised site plan to see if it's "in the spirit" of what was originally proposed.

There are at least two issues for the town planning officials to consider:

Does Benderson's proposal adhere to the Town Board's stipulation that the site plan be "generally consistent" with the concept plan submitted by the developer for board consideration back in April?

Will the addition of a movie theater and parking garage change traffic patterns to the point where additional traffic studies will need to be conducted?

"We need to make sure the traffic study the Town Board approved is still valid," Black said.

Aside from the theater and parking garage, the new site plan also shows a somewhat different condominium layout for the western end of the parcel and a number of other more minor building configuration changes throughout the property.

Black said the new plans also would add more residential dwellings to the second floor of the commercial buildings. The linear park designed to front Maple Road appears unchanged.

Benderson is seeking site plan approval for the commercial part of the Town Centre project. The developer also apparently is asking the Zoning Board of Appeals for exceptions to certain setback requirements for the condominium portion of the development, Black said.

While there's a chance the new site plan will be considered by the Planning Board at its November meeting, he said, it's more likely the plan will be discussed in January or February.

Even if the Planning Board were to grant site plan approval, Benderson still needs court clearance to proceed. A hearing is scheduled next Thursday in State Supreme Court on a lawsuit brought by The Fairways Group.


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