The supervisor of the Town of Amherst has decided not to pursue his prior plan to acquire Glen Oak and Westwood and sell off part of the Audubon Golf Course, so the logical next step for the town is to approve the rezoning of the Westwood site to allow for its cleanup and development.
In July 2014, Mensch Capital Partners unveiled an innovative $238 million plan for Westwood, proposing a traditional, walkable and sustainable neighborhood, rooted in the planning goals and objectives of Town of Amherst’s Comprehensive Plan.
Following a series of Mensch-sponsored community “town hall” meetings, the Erie County Health Department asked Mensch to conduct a Phase 2 environmental study. The test results revealed traces of arsenic in the soil of the tee boxes, greens and some fairways, with concentrations that often exceed New York State Department of Environmental Conservation soil cleanup objectives for residential, commercial or industrial uses.
After much research, Mensch traced the sources of arsenic to historic applications of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides consistent with industry-accepted golf course maintenance protocols. As a result, Mensch applied to and was accepted into the DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program.
Mensch then developed a remedial work plan with the DEC that includes more extensive testing (remedial investigation), including a broader testing to confirm the presence of arsenic. The first of these more extensive studies revealed other contaminants not previously detected in the initial testing, including cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, lead and zinc. These new metals were also consistent with the historic maintenance of the golf course.
Pursuant to state DEC standards, the site is currently unacceptable for either residential or recreational uses, including both active and passive recreation.
These new soil test results further underscore the importance of implementing a cleanup and remediation plan in cooperation with the DEC that meets or exceeds its stringent standards for residential and/or recreational uses of the site.
Remediation of the Westwood site will be very expensive, but will result in a “clean” site, certified by the DEC, meeting its rigorous standards for residential and/or recreational uses. This will increase the value of the Westwood property and will have a positive impact on the value of neighborhood properties. Remediation will only be economically viable with the support of the DEC Brownfield Cleanup Program. The vast majority of the brownfield cleanup credits are tied to the redevelopment of the site, so without an approved development plan with the town, there is no pathway to clean up the Westwood site.
Mensch continues to reach out to Amherst officials to extend our willingness to collaborate and create a solution that would allow all parties to approve a plan that solves the brownfield problem and allows the Westwood site to be a productive generator of economic, social and environmental benefits for the entire town. We hope that Amherst and its officials recognize the need to solve this problem and will accept our offers to collaboratively find the solution that enables the Westwood site to be cleaned up.
We will continue to make progress on the site investigation phase and are happy to clean up the property as part of a development plan, but if we cannot reach a compromise on development of Westwood, we cannot otherwise fund cleanup of the site. No development rights means no cleanup and an unremediated brownfield remains in the center of town that will result in depressed property values in surrounding neighborhoods.
Andrew J. Shaevel is managing partner of Mensch Capital Partners, LLC, owners of the former Westwood Country Club.