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Questions abound on Youngs Road Extension for Amherst

Like nearly everything in Amherst, the rancor over a conceptual plan to extend Youngs Road from Casey Road north to French and Dodge roads comes down to one issue: development.

Would the roughly 1.1-mile extension result in an overflow of traffic on Youngs and Casey, and bring unwanted development into the area in the bargain? Or might it actually impede plans for a new 26-unit subdivision along Casey? In the final analysis, is an extension even necessary?

On Monday night, a majority of East Amherst residents who attended a public hearing to amend the town’s comprehensive master plan to reintroduce the concept of a Youngs Road Extension were fairly adamant that it isn’t.

Lorraine Lopez, of Brookshire Court, lamented the possibility that wildlife in the area would be displaced if Youngs is extended, and an increase in traffic from Transit Road would pose a danger to pedestrians on Casey, which has no sidewalks.

“Our beautiful, countrylike environment will be destroyed,” Lopez said.

“This extension was extinguished (from the master plan) after all these years for good reasons. For children, families, people walking their dogs on their way down Casey and down Youngs Road, if you have this extension and increase the traffic patterns, I’m sure we’ll have death to deal with.”

Some version of a Youngs Road Extension has been a part of Amherst’s master plan going back to 1955. However, in February 2015, the previously Republican-majority Town Board voted, 4-1, to amend the master plan in order to accommodate plans for a 26-unit subdivision at 270 Casey Road. The developer, Henry Sicignano III, first requested that the property be rezoned from suburban-agricultural to a multifamily designation.

Sicignano was subsequently advised by the Planning Department that his layout for the subdivision was incompatible with plans for a possible Youngs Road Extension, as shown in the master plan. Sicignano then amended his application to include a request that the master plan be amended to remove any possibility of a Youngs Road Extension being built.

“The rezoning and the amendment of the comprehensive plan were reviewed and processed simultaneously,” said Assistant Planning Director Gary B. Black.

“The Planning Board ended up recommending approval of the rezoning, but recommended denial of the comprehensive plan amendment. However, the Town Board, at the time, approved both requests, the rezoning and the amendment to the comprehensive plan to remove the Youngs Road Extension.

That never sat well with Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich who, at that time, was one of only two Democrats on the board and the only no vote on amending the master plan.

On Jan. 19, Popowich introduced a resolution that directed the Planning Department to explore returning the Youngs Road Extension to the master plan, which was approved by her and two new anti-development Democrats who had been elected to the board last November, Deborah Bruck Bucki and Francina J. Spoth.

Black said Tuesday that one could only speculate about why the concept of an extension was included in the master plan in the first place. As for why it continued to be included in subsequent master plans developed in 1962, 1968, 1976, 2004 and its 2007 update, there was an assumption at the time that North Amherst was destined to develop more densely than it has to date.

“It’s less likely, because of wetlands and other factors, that we’re going to see the density of development in North Amherst that was anticipated in the various plans through the years,” Black said.

“That said, there’s still existing development north of where Youngs Road ends and Ransom Oaks. And traffic has increased at a rate greater, I think, than was anticipated back in the 1950s and 1960s. So even though the amount of development will not be what was anticipated, the amount of traffic has exceeded what was thought at the time.”

Although none of the town’s master plans included actual plans or funds to construct an extension, Black explained at Monday night’s hearing that the rationale for possibly extending Youngs is basically to manage traffic flow in the town. Reintroducing the concept of the extension to the master plan preserves the opportunity to purse its construction, he said.

“For years, there has been talk – including a recent push by the Village of Williamsville – to have the Thruway Authority look at constructing an exit from the Thruway at Youngs Road,” Black said. “If that were to ever happen – and it may not happen for 50 years – it’s going to have a significant impact on traffic on Youngs Road, which may cause a need for the extension to be built.”

At Monday night’s hearing, lifelong Casey Road resident Mary Beth Mathews expressed concern about mounting traffic pressures around Casey Middle and Dodge Road Elementary schools.

“We owe it to future residents to keep the option open to extend Youngs Road to the North French Road/Dodge Road area,” Mathews said.

However, another East Amherst resident, Dr. Sayeed Nabi, warned that the town could be facing another lawsuit if an extension is ever constructed.

That sentiment was later echoed by Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, who noted a $4 million judgment that the town was forced to pay to developer William L. Huntress, who 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.

Attorney Jeffery D. Palumbo, of Barclay Damon, which represents Sicignano, said Monday that the only opportunity that amending the master plan presents is taking away his client’s property development rights.

“The town doesn’t own that property. You’re taking someone else’s property and destroying wetlands at the same time,” Palumbo said.

Meanwhile, Popwich insisted that the larger question is who should be driving the town’s long-range planning decisions.

“Is it our Planning Department driving the decisions, or is it the developers in this town driving our long-range planning decisions? That’s what I’m concerned about,” Popowich said. “I’m more than willing to put off a decision tonight so our attorneys can work with Mr. Palumbo and try to find some sort of common ground.”