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Another Voice: Amherst takes foolish action on Westwood property

By Andrew J. Shaevel

Action by the Amherst Town Board to use taxpayer funds to hire outside legal counsel for purposes, “including but not limited to condemnation issues, eminent domain issues, land redevelopment issues, and litigation” of the Westwood property is highly inappropriate and could prove to be a fiscal nightmare.

Since the request for proposal was issued in the secrecy of an executive session, we are left with no choice but to allow the resolution to speak for itself: This is the first shot fired in a battle to seize, at taxpayer expense, the Westwood property by eminent domain.

It is hard to imagine how this process is in the best interests of the town.

Mensch’s current proposal offers to clean a contaminated brownfield, invest $250 million in infrastructure improvements and new construction, significantly growing the tax base, while reserving 48.7 percent of the property as open greenspace and donating almost 45 acres to the town for a new park and fire substation.

Almost 87 percent of the proposed construction is for residential housing, including single-family homes, patio homes, townhouses, condos, multifamily apartments and senior housing.

In what alternative universe would a town or its taxpaying residents openly embrace the idea of spending millions of dollars to buy a brownfield so it can then invest millions more to remediate it without the support of the state’s brownfield cleanup program? Have Supervisor Barry Weinstein and the Town Board members done the math? This approach will likely cost the Amherst taxpayers millions, possibly exposing the town to future lawsuits while forfeiting all the economic development benefits of our proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the site.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already stated that the site cannot be used for any purpose without remediation, which has been estimated to cost between $6 and $9 million. Do Amherst taxpayers want to write this check? I think not!

The Westwood plan has been estimated to generate $52 million of incremental tax revenues and over $26 million of net benefit when fully accounting for the cost of services. Do Amherst taxpayers want to pay more in taxes to offset this lost opportunity? I think not!

Mensch’s plan reserves almost 50 percent of the site for open green space and donates almost 45 acres for the establishment of a new town park and fire substation. Do Amherst taxpayers want to pay for contaminated land when we are offering them a fully remediated park at no cost? I think not!

This is an aggressive move without precedent and is just bad public policy! Why would the town want to pick this fight when we have openly and repeatedly asked for feedback and ideas, and invited the town and our neighbors to help us find the win-win redevelopment scenario for this site?

Eminent domain is not the answer and I think the residents, landowners and taxpayers of this great town should be outraged by this foolish resolution.

Andrew J. Shaevel is managing partner of Mensch Capital Partners, LLC, owners for the former Westwood Country Club.

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