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Development is focus in Amherst supervisor race

As the race for Amherst supervisor heats up, a familiar issue – development – is once again taking center stage.

One needed to look no further than a ritzy Snyder neighborhood Tuesday night to see the issue is as controversial as ever.

Members of the Livingston Parkway Association – who are fighting a six-story Hyatt hotel from being built near their backyards – held a political fundraiser for Council Member Mark A. Manna, who is challenging incumbent Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein.

The residents say they’re still angry with Weinstein and other town leaders for allowing two recent hotel projects on Main Street – and they’re pledging to help bankroll Manna’s campaign.

“None of us are anti-development, but we would like to have more of a discussion of what responsible development is,” said E.J. Butler, who hosted the fundraiser in his Livingston Parkway home.

Manna was hoping to make as much as $7,000 from the event, which brought together not only Democrats but also Republicans who wouldn’t normally support a Democratic candidate.

But all political bets are off when it comes to recent controversial developments in the town – something Manna and the residents group vow to make the central issue of the campaign.

“A six-story hotel in your backyard is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Manna said. “I want to be the voice of residents and do everything I can to protect their neighborhoods.”

Both the Hyatt Hotel proposed by Iskalo Development behind the Lord Amherst site and a soon-to-be-completed Main Street hotel built by developer Carl Paladino have outraged residents, who say both projects are out of context for their locations.

Weinstein in recent weeks has sought to alleviate some of the residents’ concerns and argues that he has no authority to stop the developments, because all approvals went through the town’s Planning and Zoning boards and not the Town Board.

“Every opportunity to vote against these projects, I did,” Weinstein wrote Tuesday in a Buffalo News letter to the editor. “I have addressed residents’ complaints and supported their issue to the maximum extent of my authority.”

But that answer doesn’t satisfy residents like Butler, who say the buck ultimately stops with Weinstein and the Zoning Board members he appoints.

They take issue with a slew of zoning variances granted to the Hyatt project, including a disputed restriction on building height, as well as plans to alter a pond that faces their backyards.

“For him to say he’s powerless, it’s ludicrous,” Butler said. “If he believes this, he’s not up to the job of being the de facto mayor of the largest town in Western New York.”

So Butler opened his home to those who have shown an early interest in Manna’s campaign. A suggested donation was $70, and Manna said he hoped to see 100 guests at the event.

The backing of neighborhood groups could give Manna a boost at a time when even he predicts he will be largely outspent by Weinstein and Republican officials in the town.

And not surprisingly, the size and scale of town developments – and how they are portrayed – is likely to play a central role in the campaign.

“This is one of many issues,” Manna said, “But this year, it seems to me this is really on people’s minds. This is what everyone’s talking about.”