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To make way for proposed hotel, Amherst must move a park

If Amherst wants to add a hotel to the Northtown Center, town officials will have to move a 3-acre park that sits next to the ice rink complex.

No, that doesn't involve a large flatbed truck and a vivid imagination. Instead, the town has to follow a complicated set of regulations that boils down to this:

If Amherst selects a developer to build a hotel on the existing park near the Northtown Center, the town needs to set aside 3 acres of land of equal value somewhere else to make up for the loss of the original property.

Town officials took the first step Monday night when the Town Board set a public hearing for 7 p.m. March 20 at 5583 Main St., Williamsville, to get the community's input on the proposed park swap.

Ultimately, the town will have to get the approval of the State Legislature and the governor to shift the park designation from one property to another, a step known as alienation.

"This is all very preliminary," said Town Attorney Stanley Sliwa.

The hotel would be built on 3 acres next to the town-owned Northtown Center, along Amherst Manor Road and near the University at Buffalo North Campus, land that is now part of the Audubon Recreation Complex, said Mary-Diana Pouli, executive director of the town's Youth and Recreation Department.

The town received one response from potential developers for the hotel, but has not publicly identified the company that submitted the proposal. The town said it was looking for a "nationally branded, midscale, limited-service" hotel of at least 100 to 150 rooms, according to its request for proposals. The developer would make annual lease payments to the town.

The 3 acres are part of land the town purchased from UB back in the 1960s, Sliwa said. The town used federal money for at least a portion of the purchase price.

The full alienation process can take a year, on average, Sliwa said. But depending on how much of the acquisition of the land was covered by federal money, it might be subject to a provision under federal law known as conversion, and that could extend the process out to 18 months or two years, he said.

Town Assessor David Marrano has provided town officials with an estimate of the fair market value of the 3 acres, though Sliwa declined to reveal it.

The town's Planning Department now is searching through Amherst's holdings of unused land to find properties of comparable size and value that can be substituted as parkland, said Eric Gillert, the planning director.

If the town finds a piece of land that comes in at a slightly lower value, Gillert said, it could improve the new parcel by, for example, building a playground on it.

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