Town of Amherst officials can’t count on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to block a proposed $238 million development at the former Westwood Country Club.
The Army Corps has issued a final determination that it has no jurisdiction over wetlands and other man-made water features at the 170-acre golf course at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road.
Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein Monday described the ruling as a setback for the town, which has long argued that the owners of the former golf course, Mensch Capital Partners, were required to seek permits from the Corps of Engineers before commencing any work there.
“It is a positive move for the developers that the Army Corps of Engineers is not going to kick out part of the project as being in developable wetlands,” Weinstein said, following a regular business meeting by the Town Board Monday.
“If they were under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, the developers would need to apply for a separate permit” to begin any work, he added.
Mensch Capital has proposed a mixed use development for the site, including single-family housing, apartments, condominiums, office space, a nursing home and a four-story hotel. The proposal has met with resistance from nearby residents who are concerned that the density of the project will ruin the tranquility of adjacent neighborhoods and overburden the town’s already commuter-clogged roads.
There also is concern about environmental contamination on the site from decades of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that have been sprayed on the golf course, leaving behind arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc. Mensch has prepared a cleanup plan for the site that has to meet with state Department of Environmental Conservation approval. Meanwhile, the developers have yet to seek from the town any site plan approvals or zoning changes, which will be required before any aspect of the project can move forward.
As it pertains to wetlands on the former golf course, the town has long maintained that a chain of wetlands at the northern end of the property were all connected and fed into Ellicott Creek, which is a waterway that is under federal jurisdiction. However, the Corps of Engineers determined that it had jurisdiction over only small channel of water at the southern end of the property.