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Westwood Country Club assessment would fall under settlement

The assessed value of land to be redeveloped at the former Westwood Country Club in Amherst would be reduced by nearly two-thirds under a settlement reached between the town and the investor group that bought the club five years ago.

Mensch Capital Partners wants to redevelop the vacant golf course at Sheridan Drive and North Forest Road into a new mixed-use neighborhood that envisions a variety of housing for 1,700 people – along with retail and commercial space and parkland.

The club at 772 North Forest Road and two small vacant lots at 391 and 385 Maple Road are currently assessed at a combined $2,543,300.

Mensch appealed to the town's Board of Assessment Review, which did not reduce the assessment.

But, Mensch petitioned last year in State Supreme Court for a judicial review, arguing that the land was overvalued.

The combined assessment would be reduced to $928,200 – a nearly 64 percent drop – under the terms of a settlement to be considered Tuesday night by the Town Board.

The assessed value of the 171.5-acre North Forest Road parcel would fall from $2.5 million to $910,000, while the Maple Road parcels would fall to $9,100 each from $19,700 and $23,600. The fair market value of the North Forest site would be set at $1 million, down from $2,747,000.

The settlement would take effect on the town's assessment roll for the year 2016-17 and continue through 2020-21. The settlement would not be affected by this year's revaluation in the town. A challenge brought by Mensch for the year covering 2015-16 would be dismissed.

"If property has changed in use or reverts back to use as a golf course the Town has the right to reevaluate property," according to the resolution Town Board members will consider Tuesday.

Town officials and representatives of Mensch did not immediately return calls Monday seeking additional details. The town assessor and attorneys for the town have recommended approval of the settlement.

The members of Westwood sold the club in 2012 for $2.3 million to two businessmen, who then sold it to Mensch and leased it back from them to finance the deal.

The investor group last month changed their redevelopment plans for the former course, adding significantly more open park space, an east-west drive and a fire station in response to extensive public comments on the area.

The $250 million plan includes a range of single-family homes, patio homes, townhouses, apartments, a senior living facility with 200 assisted-living and up to 104 independent-living units, and the "Westwood Neighborhood Center," which combines residential living on top of neighborhood retail shops and restaurants, plus a hotel and professional office space.

But the scale of the project has prompted anger among some nearby residents, who worry about increased traffic, noise and other issues.

They've also expressed concern about environmental contamination on the property, which has been accepted into the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program after tests found traces of arsenic from pesticides once used by the golf course.

Native American artifacts have also been found on the site.

Instead of being commercially redeveloped, critics want the property to be acquired by the town and turned into a public park. Mensch had even proposed swapping Westwood for the town's Audubon course, closer to the University at Buffalo, but town leaders were opposed.

In the meantime, the group's redevelopment plans have also not advanced much through the municipal process until now.

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