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Williamsville, developer hash out deal to swap land for housing project

Natale Development's proposal to build dozens of townhouses and apartments on the site of a former construction yard in Williamsville ran into opposition last year from some neighbors and never gained approval from planners.

Now, a deal has been hashed out to revive the stalled California Drive housing project, but it hinges on a land swap between Natale Development and the village.

The deal would allow Natale to move its planned apartment complex to a little-used village softball diamond, a parcel that is closer to Main Street itself and is farther from the residents who surround the former Herbert F. Darling Inc. construction property where Natale would still build its townhomes.

In return, the village would receive from Natale a parcel of similar size that would allow the village to extend South Long Street Park south to a former railroad line that now serves as a bike path.

Village officials say the exchange of properties should ease residents' worries about a project that has the potential to transform one of the last remaining large, ready-to-develop properties in the heart of Williamsville.

"We told Angelo, I think we're playing ball," Mayor Brian J. Kulpa said, referring to Angelo Natale, CEO of Natale Development. "I think we're up and running. We've got something that the public came up with, we turned around and described it. Angelo comes back and says, 'Yeah, we can make this work.' "

Natale Development has not yet filed with the village a revised proposal, which has an estimated price tag of $30 million. The original plan called for 30 townhouses and 112 apartments on 5 acres on California Drive, just south of Main Street.

"We're not the kind of developer that tries to come in and just bulldoze the process and force something down everybody's throat," said Bobby Corrao, president of Natale Development. "If it's something that we can work together on, and everybody can come out of it feeling like they're getting a win out of it, we'd rather do it that way."

Natale unveiled its first proposal for the site in late summer 2015. Natale acquired the site, made up of a number of parcels, from Herbert F. Darling Inc. about 15 months ago.

Williamsville construction complex could be turned into townhomes, apartments

Darling, a third-generation company that constructs and shores up heavy foundations for buildings and bridges, as well as marine projects, had been on California Drive since 1941 but several years ago began looking for a new location and put the properties up for sale. Darling has since moved to the City of Tonawanda. Prior to the sale, however, Darling and village officials worked on a rezoning of the property from heavy commercial to multi-family residential to give Williamsville control over its reuse.

But the Natale project ran into opposition from owners of homes near the former Darling site, some of whom objected to its density and others to potential increases in traffic volume. Last fall, the project faltered.

Williamsville residents raise traffic concerns over proposed apartments

In January, village officials and residents went on a walking tour of the neighborhood. Earlier this month, residents met and used Lego blocks to build models of future development on and around the Darling site. The Lego demonstration, Kulpa said, showed residents want higher-density development closer to Main Street and the village's Department of Public Works, they can live with some residential development at the Darling site and they want the park extended south to the former rail line that now serves as a bike path.

"The village and Natale and the neighbors have had a positive experience through the planning exercises," said Maggie Hamilton, director of community development for the village. "Everyone wants to work toward a positive investment in the village."

Under the proposal, the village would give Natale 2.1 acres of South Long Street Park at the corner of South Long and Village Square Lane – land that now is rarely used as a softball diamond because the field is in poor shape. Natale would build a L-shaped apartment complex of about 80 or 90 apartment units at that corner, leaving the rest of the site for parking spaces and landscaping.

In return, the village would receive a 2.1-acre parcel that looks like a gerrymandered congressional district, bounded by the park's tennis courts, the bike path and the future home of Natale's townhouses. Natale would construct a total of 40 townhouses, adding about 10 from the original plan.

The project still must go through the village approval process. Corrao said Natale hopes to begin site work and laying the foundations for the townhomes by late this summer or fall. Residents can learn more at a community planning meeting from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. March 25 in Village Hall, 5565 Main St.

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