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Deal scuttled that would have put new state park in Town of Amherst

A deal that would have put a new state park in the middle of Amherst has been scuttled.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein has announced that he will no longer pursue the proposal, in part because of a $4 million judgment that was rendered against the town.

The State Court of Appeals last week dismissed the town’s appeal of a 2013 verdict in favor of William L. Huntress, a developer who contended that his property rights were violated by the town in 2006.

“We’re going to have to pay it, or pay most of it,” Weinstein said of the judgment.

“The money is going to come out of our reserves. That’s the same reserve money that was going to be used to pay for the golf course until we got our development program rolling.”

Weinstein, who gave the invocation at Monday night’s Town Board meeting, said that a general lack of cooperation from relevant parties also contributed to his decision to back off the proposal.

“I pointed out in the beginning that this was going to take the cooperation of everybody, and I wasn’t getting the kind of cooperation that I needed, either from the Town Attorney’s Office or from the residents,” he said.

In November, Weinstein announced a proposal to sell off part of the town’s municipally owned Audubon Golf Course, with the proceeds to be used to acquire the privately owned Glen Oak Golf Course in East Amherst for $4.6 million.

“We have worked out a proposed timeline with the owner that would result in the real estate closing at the end of 2016,” Weinstein said at the time.

Plans to sell up to 75 acres of the Aubudon property for development adjacent to Millersport Highway and the University at Buffalo’s North Campus would have returned about $200,000 an acre, Weinstein estimated, more than enough to purchase Glen Oak for a new municipal golf course. There also was discussion about some of the proceeds going to purchase a former gun club on Maple Road or acquiring it as part of a land swap with more Audubon land.

The aim of these proposed purchases and swaps was to finally settle a future for the closed Westwood Country Club on Sheridan Drive in a plan that would have preserved about 200 acres of green space, while still allowing for development. It was supposed to have set an example of smart growth in the region by turning Westwood into a state park.

“I haven’t had a lot of responses to my invocation,” Weinstein said Tuesday.

On Monday, Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich, concerned that residents were being left out of the land deal process and that it was moving along too quickly, introduced a resolution to create an Audubon Westwood & Glen Oak Task Force that would review proposals connected with the land deal. Councilwoman Deborah Bruch Bucki, a fellow Democrat on the Democratic-controlled Town Board, was to have headed the task force, but Weinstein said Popowich withdrew the resolution from Monday’s agenda.

Weinstein said he withdrew a resolution he introduced to start an alienation process for the Audubon Golf Course.

“I put a call in to the owner of Glen Oak and left a message that we could not perform what we had promised,” Weinstein said.

Mensch Capital Partners, which owns the 160-acre Westwood site off Sheridan Drive, has proposed a $238 million development, which calls for a mix of single-family housing, apartments, condominiums, office space, a nursing home and a four-story hotel. It also would include 64 acres of public green space, including pedestrian and bike paths, representing about 38 percent of the entire parcel.

Andrew J. Shaevel, managing partner of Mensch Capital Partners, issued a statement reading: “We understand and respect the supervisor’s decision to withdraw his proposal to acquire the Glen Oak Golf Course, as it was never feasible to accomplish such a complex transaction before yearend 2016. Mensch will continue to engage the town, its elected officials and our neighbors in discussions to explore common ground in developing a solution to enable us to remediate the former Westwood Country Club site. All parties now understand that the site is contaminated and must be remediated before it can be reused for any purposes, including recreation, residential or otherwise. Mensch is open to exploring all options to solve this challenge.”

A phone message from The Buffalo News that was left with the business manager for Glen Oak went unanswered Tuesday. Attempts to reach members of the Democratic majority on the Town Board also were unsuccessful.

As of now, there are no other plans for the property, Weinstein said Tuesday.

“As far as Westwood is concerned, it’s privately owned, and they’ll have to go through their process,” he said. “And we don’t have anything to do with Westwood until they come back to us for authorizations or approvals or anything like that.”