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200 residents intensify opposition to 6-story hotel plan

The battle between a developer and high-end homeowners over a proposed six-story Hyatt Place hotel raged on Tuesday, this time before the town Zoning Board of Appeals.

About 200 residents, wearing red, packed Amherst Council Chambers, as people came forward to again criticize the proposed height and the appropriateness of a major hotel located close to a residential neighborhood.

Some spoke of “veiled threats” and “disingenuous” mailers from Iskalo Development, and quoted Joni Mitchell lyrics about paving paradise.

Iskalo has sought nine variances from town building codes for the $15 million Hyatt Place project that has been proposed behind the Lord Amherst Hotel, on the west side of the Main Street-Youngmann Highway interchange.

“This is a classic case of a developer attempting to shoehorn a size 77 foot into a size 35 shoe,” said Livingston Parkway resident Michele Marconi. “It doesn’t fit.”

Some scoffed when Iskalo Vice President David Chiazza put up images showing that the hotel would not be very visible to most residents in the neighboring community and would primarily affect the six homes fronting the natural area known as Mike’s Pond.

In response to a comparison to Ellicott Development’s six-story project under construction at Main Street and South Forest Road, resident Lee Broad called that project an “architectural travesty” and warned that neighborhood residents would not allow a similarly tall building to harm the residential character of their community.

Paul B. Iskalo, company president, opened a public hearing, which ran more than two hours, by expressing his passion for Main Street redevelopment and the importance of the Hyatt project at the planned location.

“It’s critical to maintaining Main Street’s presence as a commercial, retail and hospitality corridor,” he said later.

Resident Z.J. Butler said property values would be greatly hurt by the project. Most homes along Livingston Parkway are assessed at $300,000 to more than $600,000, he pointed out, and those that front Mike’s Pond are worth more than $500,000.

Of all the variances presented, which ranged from parking to signage, residents expressed the greatest objections to requests to lift the building height restrictions and replace natural berms at the edge of the property along Interstate 290 with parking spaces and tall sound barriers.

The proposed variance would raise the controversial 65-foot building height restriction to 77 feet, 4 inches to accommodate a decorative roofline feature.

Iskalo representatives said the decorative roofline consists of a single triangular peak as part of the hotel’s prototype design and would be located only at the front of the hotel, which would face I-290. The peaked roofline would likely not be visible to Livingston Parkway residents, they said.

Chiazza said Iskalo Development mailed out 1,200 full-color, four-page promotional brochures last week regarding the project to residents of the Snyder area, to counteract complaints raised by organized opposition.