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Williamsville park swap thrown into doubt by high cost estimate

The prospects for a land swap between Williamsville and a housing developer that is bitterly opposed by some village residents dimmed this week after estimates for parkland improvements came in significantly higher than expected.

The estimated cost of putting South Long Park back together after a land swap was put at as much as $1.25 million – much higher than village officials anticipated.

"No one in our wildest dreams thought the number would come in that high," said Trustee Deb Rogers.

Under the terms of the proposed parkland swap, Natale Development would build an 80-unit apartment complex on the 1.8-acre baseball diamond in the park.

What will become of Williamsville's only baseball diamond?

In return, Natale would transfer to the village an equal portion from the 6 acres it purchased last year on California Drive, creating a north-south park that connects to the Lehigh Valley train depot and walking trail.

The debate over whether to approve a swap has roiled the village in recent months.

The village expected Natale would pay for many of the amenities on the new parkland in the former construction yard. Natale would then build 42 townhomes on the rest of the California Drive property, formerly the home of Darling Construction, in a housing development called Asher Crossing.

But estimates from the village's consultant, Parkitects, may have put the land swap out of reach.

Playground equipment would cost $395,000; a spraypark, $300,000; sidewalks, $172,500; two tennis courts and one basketball court, $150,000; park lighting, $100,000; engineering/survey design fees, $50,000; landscaping, $50,000; athletic equipment, $12,400; drinking fountain, $12,000; and fencing, $12,000.

It was anticipated that the spray park would replace the amenity lost in the swap – the clay baseball diamond. But even the $953,900 price tag without the spray park is too high, officials said.

Village officials have balked at those estimates.

"We're heading in a direction where we've asked Natale to look at different options," Mayor Brian J. Kulpa said. "We're changing the placement of the buildings from anything we've seen yet."

The village still desires to obtain the Section House, a historic railroad-era structure which sits on Natale property, and connect the parks through an alternative land swap arrangement, Kulpa said.

Kulpa said he's committed to moving negotiations with the developer along quickly, so that the village Planning Board will have a site plan to review in October.

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