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AmeriCorps moving out 2 years early

Western New York AmeriCorps will be moving out of its West Seneca headquarters two years early, under an agreement approved Monday night by the Town Board.

The group will move out of the Burchfield Nature & Art Center on Union Road by Dec. 31, a change that is likely to head off much of the contention that has centered around AmeriCorps and its leader, Mark P. Lazzara.

Town Supervisor Wallace C. Piotrowski said that it will be up to the Town Board to decide what to do with the Burchfield Center but that he would like to see the town's Building and Engineering departments move in. That would free up nearly 6,000 square feet of space in Town Hall for the Police Department to expand, he said.

AmeriCorps has come under increasing criticism by town residents and officials over the last several months, with the group's finances a regular source of complaints.

Lazzara would not say where the group will relocate but did confirm that it would be in the City of Buffalo. Speculation has centered on a possible relocation to Cazenovia Park in South Buffalo.

AmeriCorps has agreed to repay the town more than $800,000 over five years for funds the town has advanced to the group.

The agreement also calls for Lazzara to resign as director of the town's Youth Bureau as of Feb. 1. He had been widely criticized for drawing a town salary and benefits despite acknowledging that he spent most of his time on AmeriCorps projects.

In other business Monday, the Town Board voted, 3-2, to reject a request from People Inc. to rezone 117 French Road for a senior citizens apartment complex. Piotrowski and Councilman Vincent J. Graber Jr. were the sole supporters of the project, which neighbors complained would exacerbate drainage problems.

Outside the meeting, Rhonda I. Frederick, chief operating officer of People Inc., said her group would begin searching for an alternative site in West Seneca. People Inc. has nearly $5 million in federal grant funds to build an affordable senior citizens housing complex in the town.

Frederick said she was disappointed.

"We really felt strongly in terms of this being a good location," she said. "We very much want to serve seniors in West Seneca."

The project had been modified to address neighbors' concerns about drainage, she said.

"The publicly stated concerns were all addressed," Frederick said. "It's very disappointing that a town would turn away housing, would turn away jobs."

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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