Over the objections of the developer, the Amherst Town Board agreed Monday to hold the first formal hearing since January on a $250 million plan to reuse the former Westwood Country Club.
The Town Board voted 5-0 to hold a public hearing next month on the project's environmental effect — taking control of that review from the town's Planning Board.
"I think that the important thing is the town has to continue moving forward through this process," said Deputy Supervisor Steven D. Sanders.
It sets up a clash between the Town Board — which wants to jump-start a review that has slowed since the start of the year — and a developer that argues a project of this scale requires careful study.
The accelerated timeline doesn't make sense to the developer, Mensch Capital Partners. Mensch Capital's representatives urged the Town Board not to set the public hearing, saying the developer and the town are both collecting needed information and the project could change in response.
The delay at the Planning Board is driven by a complex sanitary-sewer issue, Mensch Capital attorney Sean Hopkins said, and the developer would like to continue to collaborate with the town on a solution.
Mensch Capital acquired the Westwood property five years ago. The developer's most recent plan to overhaul the country club, the fourth version, includes a mix of housing for 1,700 people, retail and commercial space and parkland.
The project would require rezoning much of the 171-acre site. The developers have held meetings with residents over the past three years.
But, opponents continue to cite potential traffic safety, drainage, density and environmental cleanup problems.
The Planning Board has led the review process up to this point. Typically, the Planning Board starts the environmental review of a project, making a recommendation to the Town Board, which has the final say on whether a project will harm the environment.
Hopkins said, prior to Monday's vote, that the Planning Board is the best venue for this review to continue and that the environmental review shouldn't be separated from the rezoning review, whenever that begins.
After the vote, Hopkins said, "We still think it's premature, and the reason we think it's premature is they still have to hold a hearing on the rezoning. Because they go hand-in-hand."
The public hearing will start at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18.
Additional comments will be accepted by the Town Clerk's Office until 4 p.m. on Oct. 2.
A member of the development group also wrote to Town Engineer Jeff Burroughs on Monday seeking a meeting to discuss Burroughs' analysis, expected soon, of whether the sanitary sewer capacity in the Westwood neighborhood, particularly during wet weather conditions, is sufficient for the project.
The Town Board accepted the letter. But the board did not direct Burroughs to schedule the meeting.