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Woman's dream home is Amherst's highest-assessed residence

Until the early 1960s, Josephine G. Coppola and her husband, James, were raising their eight children in a three-bedroom home in the Town of Amherst.

She has a lot more room now.

Today, the co-founder of Len-Co Lumber lives in her dream house, a custom-built mansion on Village Pointe Lane.

At $2.75 million, the home's new assessment is by far the highest of any residence in the town following Amherst's first townwide reassessment in eight years.

"Stunning" is how Coppola's daughter, Mary Beth Drozda, describes the home, where she also lives with her husband, Tom.

"If she wanted it and thought it was a beautiful color, we just did it because I want her to live in her dream house until she passes. I just wanted her to have everything that she wanted."

Thousands of Amherst property owners challenged their assessments this year following the reassessment. When told her assessment was No. 1, Drozda immediately responded, "That's disgusting" and was candid about her disappointment with the town's services on her street, including maintenance of the cul-de-sac circle's landscaping and snowplowing.

But Drozda and her mom didn't file a grievance with the town's Board of Assessment Review to ask for a lower assessment. It was an oversight, said Drozda. She thinks her property tax bill of $66,296 last year was outrageous for the home, which measures 7,730 square feet and was built over four years beginning in 2004.

"Do I wish we would have gone smaller? Yes, because we didn't calculate how absurd the taxes would be," said Drozda, a nurse. "Do I wish we could have a do-over? Yeah. I just think wasting that much money on taxes is, it's more than some people live on in a year and it makes me sick because we're down-to-earth people. That amount of taxes is gut-wrenching to me."

The assessment on Coppola's home increased this year by 27 percent, from $2.16 million in 2016. That nearly $600,000 increase was the most for any pre-existing residence in the town.

Her new assessment is $700,000 more than the next highest in town, which is also on Village Pointe Lane.

"Neither property challenged their value, so we feel confident in our numbers," said Town Assessor David Marrano.

In Amherst, the 10 homes with the highest assessments can all be found on five streets. Village Pointe Lane, Casey Road, Le Brun Road, Ana Woods and Da Vinci Court host these tony homes that have a combined value of $16.5 million, according to town figures.

But it was a long way for Coppola, 92, to reach 295 Village Pointe Lane from her humble origins on Buffalo's West Side.

"The two of them came from nothing," Drozda said. "They lived in the projects and they came from nothing."

James P. Coppola Sr. was born on Dante Place in Buffalo and was raised on the West Side by an aunt after his mother died when he was an infant. Josephine is the daughter of Sicilian immigrants and at a young age was affectionately nicknamed "Jojo," which quickly became "Judge."

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, James Coppola worked at Cuyahoga Wrecking Co. in Buffalo. When the company left town, Coppola decided to buy a business of his own – the former Brady Lumber Co. –  and convinced his wife it could support their growing family.

"They had nothing handed to them," said Drozda. "My dad just had this vision to run an honorable business. All they had was love and a dream."

Without any assets, he was denied bank loans. But Josephine Coppola had been putting aside a few dollars here and there, sold war bonds and amassed the roughly $3,000 they needed to start the business.

"I was a saver," she said. "I didn't even have any dresses to wear. I went out one time and had to wear my sister's dress."

In 1958, the couple opened the business under the new name of Len-Co, a combination of the last names Coppola and Leonard, a partner who owned their first truck.

Under Coppola's direction, the lumber company grew into the largest locally owned retail lumber and building supplies store in Western New York.

With the company prospering, the family moved in 1964 from the three-bedroom home James Coppola built on East Maplemere Road to E.B. Green's Wallace Estate, located on 2.4 acres at 697 LeBrun Road, in Eggertsville.

"He told my mom one day, 'I think I've found a house where all our kids can fit,' " said Drozda.

The couple had a ninth child and the family stayed on LeBrun for 47 years, until James Coppola's death in 2002. After that, it was too painful for his widow to remain in the house, said her daughter.

"There were memories of him everywhere," she said.

Just before he died, the City of Buffalo had proposed renaming the road between Seneca and Elk streets at the original Len-Co location in honor of James Coppola for his many years hiring and mentoring troubled youth from the nearby Seneca-Babcock neighborhood.

"I think that's why he prospered and had such a successful business, because he really cared," said Drozda.

Today the street is known as James P. Coppola Sr. Blvd., even after the businessman had demurred.

"He said I would prefer you name the street after my wife, she's the reason Len-Co Lumber started," said Drozda. "He never saw it, but he wouldn't have liked it either. He was so humble. My dad was never showy."

Josephine Coppola's home at 295 Village Pointe Lane in Amherst is the highest-assessed home in the town at $2.75 million. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

After his death, Josephine Coppola relocated to her newly built house on 0.75 acres on Village Pointe, with its stucco exterior that sparkles at night when headlights shine on little pieces of iridescent shell. With five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, three half-bathrooms and four fireplaces, her new home is the 13th largest in Amherst by square footage. The largest is an estate at 300 Casey Road, which measures 10,741 square feet.

Some common features among the highest assessed residences are that they are usually larger homes ranging from 6,500 to more than 10,000 square feet and are in excellent condition, said Marrano, the town assessor. The homes also may be set on estate-style land and built of high-grade materials with many extra amenities not seen in most homes, he said.

"All of these factors create a higher market value for these homes," he said.

Drozda said her neighbors on the street perched atop an escarpment hill are friendly and outgoing.

"Sometimes when you get people who have some money, you might get people who are say, uppity, but there are mostly doctors on the street who are just classy, really down-to-earth people," she said.

Coppola's home was built to be accessible for someone who may have difficulty getting around. With two separate living areas, the home allows Coppola to live independently, but still be close to her family.

She selected every design feature, down to the cobalt blue granite counter tops imported from Italy.

"She really got everything that she wanted and she earned it," Drozda said. "So there was no way I was going to stop her."

Related: Which Amherst neighborhoods saw the biggest assessment hikes, reductions? 



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