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Amherst Planning Board delays action on Westwood redevelopment plan

The Amherst Planning Board  has put off for two months action on a $250 million, mixed-used redevelopment plan for the former Westwood Country Club.

Members voted 6-1 Thursday to adjourn any decision on the developer's request to rezone 147 acres of the 171-acre site until the board's March meeting at the earliest.

Planning Board members also said they won't act on the request from Mensch Capital Partners until the town's professional staff signs off on the steps the developer has taken to address sanitary sewer, storm water run-off and traffic-impact issues.

The board's vote followed 50 minutes of public comment, when all but two of the 17 speakers objected to the project, which would transform the shuttered country club into a sprawling development of housing for 1,700 people, retail and commercial space and park land.

"This is not smart growth," said Jennifer Snyder-Haas, a Fairways Boulevard resident.

Mensch bought the Westwood Country Club in 2012 and kept the club and its golf course operating for two more years before closing it and focusing on a redevelopment plan. Mensch consists of Managing Partner Andrew J. Shaevel and Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. CEO Paul F. Ciminelli, Priam Enterprises LLC’s Paul J. Kolkmeyer and Mark E. Hamister of hospitality firm Hamister Group.

The former club is bounded by Sheridan Drive to the south, Maple Road to the north, Frankhauser Road and Fairways Boulevard to the west and North Forest Road and Ellicott Creek to the east.

Opposition from neighbors quickly formed, centered around fears of increased congestion, incompatibility with the town's comprehensive plan and loss of green space.

They also raised concerns about contamination at the site, which was accepted into the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

The developers in December unveiled an altered version of the redevelopment, responding to feedback from residents and town officials.

The latest plans include more open park space, an east-west route through the property and a fire station within the development, Sean Hopkins, a lawyer representing Mensch, said at the Planning Board meeting.

"I think we've made a lot of improvements based on the input we've received," Hopkins said.

Mensch unveiled the plans in late December. The development plan continues to include a mix of single-family homes, patio homes, apartments, townhouses, senior housing, a hotel and retail businesses.

The site now is zoned recreation conservation. The developers seek to rezone 137 acres to traditional neighborhood redevelopment, about 6 acres to multi-family residential and about one acre to general business.

The Planning Board can recommend the Town Board approve or deny the zoning change, but it is the Town Board that ultimately makes that decision. The project would face other layers of approval beside the zoning change.

After Hopkins outlined the revamped master plan for the project Thursday, residents spent the better part of 50 minutes saying the revisions did nothing to alleviate their concerns. Speakers who opposed the project were met with applause at the end of their remarks, while the two who supported it received a smattering of boos.

"Once this green space is gone, it cannot be replaced," said Nathan Hartrich, of Meadowbrook Road, the president of the Morningside Home Owners Association.

Several Planning Board members noted how much work the developers still need to do to address storm water run-off and sanitary-sewer capacity concerns and to collect updated traffic-impact data.

Mary Shapiro was the only board member who voted against adjourning the project. She offered a motion to recommend denying Mensch its rezoning request, but it failed for lack of a second.

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