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Amherst accepts draft environmental statement on Westwood site

The Amherst Town Board voted 3-2 Monday in favor of accepting a draft environmental statement submitted by the developers of a proposal to redevelop the former Westwood Country Club site.

The acceptance of the draft document followed a special meeting called by the Town Board at which only a handful of residents expressed concerns over the proposal by Mensch Capital Partners, the four-member investor group that purchased the 170-acre parcel at North Forest Road for $2.5 million in 2012.

Supervisor Barry A .Weinstein and Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich cast the two negative votes. Weinstein said he did not believe the draft document was complete.

“The document acknowledges that one-half inch of rain will result in downstream sanitary sewer discharge. The overflows will impact the Westwood neighborhood,” said Weinstein.

He added that the plan does not address traffic problems on Sheridan Drive. However, Councilman Steven D. Sanders said the document answered all of the Town Board’s questions, even if they were not necessarily acceptable to the board.

The proposed $238 million development calls for a mix of single-family housing, apartments, condominiums, office space, a nursing home and a four-story hotel. However, some nearby residents are concerned that the density of the project will ruin the tranquility of their neighborhoods and overburden Amherst’s already commuter-clogged roads.

Dianne Mania of Lakewood Parkway raised questions about drainage and whether she might face the prospect of a new street behind her backyard.

“As far as Westwood is concerned, keep it green,” Mania told lawmakers Monday.

The Town Board at its Dec. 7 meeting had attempted to affirm the developer’s draft document, but it failed by one vote after Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich voted against holding a vote at that meeting because of a glitch that prevented the resolution from appearing on the Town Board agenda for that meeting.

Monday’s action was not a substantive approval of Mensch Capital’s plan, but an acknowledgement that the developers had satisfied all of the Town Board’s environmental questions.

Previous plans submitted by the developer submitted in July 2014 and in March were rejected as inadequate by both the Town Board and the Planning Board because the developer failed to address issues concerning public and private utilities, as well as the proposed density of the project.

Once the Town Board approves a draft environmental impact statement, the developer will then be required to submit an actual site plan before issuing a final environmental impact statement. After more public hearings, the Town Board will have final say on the proposed mixed-use development, which will be the first such project to come before the board since changes were made to the zoning law. That zoning law now requires that site plans be evaluated as a whole rather than in piecemeal fashion, Weinstein said.

Recently, the supervisor, at the request of his colleagues on the Town Board, has been looking into the possibility of the town buying part or all of Westwood from Mensch Capital Partners. Town officials have expressed interest in seeking state funding to preserve a portion of the Westwood property as greenspace, similar to how the town acquired land for Amherst State Park on Mill Street from the Sisters of St. Francis.

While the Town Board at its Dec. 7 meeting approved Weinstein’s plans to begin exploring the idea of turning the former golf course into a park, Mensch Capital Partners still wants to go ahead with plans for a mixed-use development.