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Amherst fails to overturn award to Huntress

A state appellate court has upheld a June 2013 jury verdict that ordered the Town of Amherst to pay $3.94 million to a developer who claimed his property rights were violated by the Town Board in 2006.

It was during a four-week trial in 2013 that a lawyer for developer William L. Huntress of Acquest Wehrle argued that the board’s about-face on a previous approval of his client’s plan to build an office park at 2190 and 2220 Wehrle Drive was due to opposition from neighbors and then-Supervisor Satish B. Mohan.

“It’s reassuring to my client, and myself, that appellate court has said that the town violated my client’s rights, and we got another new judgment to prove it,” said Matthew D. Miller, a lawyer for Rupp, Baase, Pfalzgraf, Cunningham Attorneys on Monday.

“We hope to finally put this thing to rest, though I don’t know if there will be any further appeals,” Miller added.

Miller said his client’s fight with the town dates back to 1998, when Acquest bought the land on Wehrle Drive without any knowledge of a 50-year moratorium on the parcel, or that the town had received $5 million in federal funds to preserve the property as wetlands. He said the town never filed the moratorium documents with the clerk’s office and neglected to inform his client of any moratorium on developing the property at the time of purchase.

Miller said the Town Board initially agreed to help Huntress seek a waiver of the moratorium but changed its mind and then voted to withdraw the offer.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, who was not on the Town Board at the time of the initial dispute, on Monday said the town plans to appeal the Appellate Division decision to the New York State Court of Appeals

“In order to appeal the Appellate Division decision, it has to be a final decision. One of the issues that we were working on, I think, was the attorney’s fees that we would owe,” Weinstein said.

Once there is agreement on the attorney’s fees, which is required to get to a final decision from the Appellate Division, the town will pursue the case to the state Court of Appeals which, Weinstein said, could take about a year or two.

“The exposure to the town is probably between $3 million and $4 million,” he said.

Weinstein said the original $3.94 million verdict was reduced by the Appellate Division to $1.45 million about a year ago. However, with the state’s statutory interest at 9 percent, dating back to 2006, as well as attorney’s fees, that would bring the town’s liability to between $3 million and $4 million.