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State’s highest court dismisses Amherst appeal of $3.4 million judgment to developer

The state’s highest court has dismissed the Town of Amherst’s appeal of a $3.4 million judgment in favor a developer who contended that his property rights were violated by the Town Board in 2006.

According to a lawyer for developer William L. Huntress, of Acquest Wehrle LLC, the state Court of Appeals decision gives finality to the case that his client first won in court in 2013.

“We believe that it’s 99.9 percent over,” said R. Anthony Rupp III, of Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham.

“Of course, litigation is never over, because there’s always the possibility that (the town) could try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Rupp added.

Whether town officials were prepared to pursue that route was unclear Tuesday. Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein did not return a call seeking comment.

In the original trial, lawyers for Huntress had argued that the Town Board’s about-face on a previous approval of their client’s plan to build an office park at 2190 and 2220 Wehrle Drive was because of opposition from neighbors on Bellingham and then-Supervisor Satish B. Mohan.

Prior to that, Rupp said, the town had been working with Acquest to clear hurdles to the project.

Back in 1998, Acquest purchased 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.

“We bought this property to develop it, and it passed (an environmental) review that said it was developable,” Rupp said. “We were well along in that process when the neighbors along Bellingham, to their credit, discovered that there was a 50-year moratorium that was imposed by (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) on tapping into the sewer there.”

Rupp said the town continued to work with Acquest over the ensuing six years until Mohan succeeded Susan J. Grelick as supervisor in 2006.

Prior to that, Rupp said, the town was eager to assist Acquest in applying for a waiver from both the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA to make up for the town’s lack of due diligence in first revealing to the developer the 50-year moratorium that was imposed on the property.

Once town officials put aside the waiver request that had been made on the developer’s behalf, and Acquest was forced to scuttle the project for a second time, a lawsuit was filed against the town.

“The town could, at any time, have said, ‘We agree that we were bad here. We’ve now been told by a court that we were wrong, and we want to make it up to Acquest and pursue this waiver, as we had done up until 2006, and allow the project to go forward,’ ” Rupp said.

In the 2013 trial, Acquest was awarded $3 million in damages, which the town appealed and lost.

The town appealed the verdict yet again in January, but the Court of Appeals dismissed it before even seeing briefs or hearing arguments.

Rupp said Acquest will now seek to begin enforcement and collection of the judgment, which is accruing nearly $1,000 a day in interest.

In the meantime, Rupp said, Huntress, after spending more than a $1 million on site plans and other preparations for the property, still has plans to develop the parcel.