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Amherst to pay Huntress $4 million for damages, fees

More than two years after first being socked with a hefty judgment, the Town of Amherst agreed Monday to pony up $4 million in damages and attorney’s fees to a local developer.

William L. Huntress contended his property rights were violated when town officials failed to make him aware that there was a 50-year moratorium on developing land on Wehrle Drive he had purchased with the expressed purpose of developing it. Following a court trial, Huntress was awarded $3 million in damages on Dec. 10, 2013. The town appealed twice and lost, most recently two weeks ago when a State Supreme Court justice declined to hear the second appeal.

On Monday, the Town Board met in a brief special session and unanimously agreed to borrow $4.1 million from the town’s sewer and self-insurance funds to provide the cash to make full payment of the judgment.

“We will have to sell bonds to pay it back,” Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said.

Lawyers for Huntress said town officials were initially eager to assist his company, Acquest Wehrle LLC, in applying for a waiver from both the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make up for the town’s lack of due diligence in first revealing to Huntress the 50-year moratorium that was imposed on the property.

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 Drive and then-Supervisor Satish B. Mohan.

Once town officials had 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.

Meanwhile, Weinstein last week announced that a deal aimed at putting a new state park in the middle of the town had to be scuttled, in part, because of the $4 million judgment the town was being forced to pay.

That now-scuttled deal involved 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.

The aim of those proposed purchases and land swaps was to finally settle a future for the closed Westwood Country Club on Sheridan Drive. Funding for that project is no longer available because of the Huntress judgment, Weinstein said.