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Neighbors question rezoning at Westwood

After residents living near the site raised issues, the Amherst Planning Board will take at least a month to decide on rezoning a 4.6-acre parcel of the Westwood Country Club.

About 20 residents at Thursday's Planning Board meeting questioned developer John Yurtchuk's plans to build a 50,000-square-foot medical office on the site at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road.

"I drive by Sheridan/North Forest quite often, and am concerned about the traffic," Robert Collins, an Amherst resident, said in an e-mail interview. "I just think that a commercial building here is the wrong approach."

In addition to raising questions about traffic at the already-congested intersection, residents expressed doubts about whether a two-story office building was in keeping with the neighborhood's residential character and the town's comprehensive plan, according to Rick Gillert, Amherst planning director.

The Planning Board adjourned Thursday's public hearing and will examine the proposal again May 19.

In response to issues raised by residents, Yurtchuk and Sean Hopkins, his attorney, said Friday they will develop a street-level view of the proposed office building. They said the building would be compatible with the community's character because of its upscale architecture, berms on both the Sheridan and North Forest sides, and extensive landscaping.

"We're going to add 100 trees where there's not one tree standing," said Yurtchuk, who has signed a contract to purchase the land for $1 million.

Hopkins said a traffic consultant determined a left-hand turn lane would need to be installed at the site's driveway for northbound cars entering the property from North Forest. He said the town also recommended a driveway that would allow only right-hand turns in and out of the Sheridan Drive entrance, a move that he and Yurtchuk are weighing.

Collins, the Amherst resident, suggested that Yurtchuk build condominiums at the site. Residential options were explored, said Barry Singer, Westwood president, but ultimately ruled out because not enough apartments could be built on the site to make the idea profitable and the club's course would have to be redesigned.

"We can appreciate [residents'] concerns," Singer said. "It's difficult now for them. We certainly can appreciate that, but we have the land and we feel that we have to develop."

Yurtchuk said the proposed medical site would be more appropriate in the long run than the type of large-scale development that could occur if the club were sold. Singer previously said the club's finances had rebounded in recent years and acknowledged Friday the financial boost the land sale would provide.

"We're not trying to use future development as a threat -- it's just a fact," Yurtchuk said. "We feel that it helps block future development at the club."

Yurtchuk's purchase of the Westwood land is contingent on changing the zoning to office building from community facility.

The current zoning, he said, would allow a nonprofit medical facility, something that two nonprofit entities have proposed.