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Amherst Planning Board vote spells trouble for proposed Northtown Center hotel

An $11 million hotel planned for the Northtown Center faces an uncertain future after the Amherst Planning Board on Thursday night recommended denying the rezoning change required for the project to move forward. The vote was 6-1.

The Town Board will make the final decision on the zoning change, and it can overrule the opinion of the Planning Board.

But several members of the Planning Board were clear Thursday in saying they thought Amherst already had too many hotels in the area surrounding the Northtown Center and the University at Buffalo North Campus. And they were reluctant to give up 3 acres of green space to make way for the hotel.

"There are several hotels on the other side of UB that haven't been built yet," Planning Board member Mary Shapiro said.

Uniland Development Co., which proposed constructing a four-story, 105-room Hampton by Hilton hotel, with 115 parking spaces, declined comment Friday on the Planning Board vote.

The Town Board has approved a memorandum of understanding with Uniland, which would construct and own the hotel and make lease payments to the town.

Uniland was the only developer that responded to the town's request for proposals to build a hotel at the Northtown Center.

Uniland previously said it was interested in the Northtown Center site because the rink complex draws one million visitors annually, and a mid-scale hotel with a pool, restaurant and banquet facility only will make the center more attractive. The proximity to the students, faculty, staff and athletic competitions at the nearby North Campus also made the site appealing.

The proposed site of the hotel, at 1615 Amherst Manor Drive, is located in the southwestern corner of the town's Audubon Recreation Complex. It requires rezoning from recreation conservation to general business.

In exchange for the 3 acres of green space the town would lose at Northtown Center, Amherst would gain as parkland 26.6 acres of town-owned land between North French and Casey roads in the East Amherst Conservation Area through a process known as alienation.

Uniland to build Hampton by Hilton hotel at Amherst's Northtown Center

UB has raised concerns about where there is enough sanitary sewer capacity in the area to handle the hotel. Ellen Kost, an associate planner with the town, said Thursday the town engineer determined the system is sufficient. She also said the hotel project is consistent with the town's comprehensive plan.

Shapiro, however, said the town has too many hotels in that area of Sweet Home and Maple roads and she wants to see the land remain in use for recreation.

Board member Steven Herberger pointed out that the town in 2014 created a new zoning district, recreation conservation, for the Audubon Recreation Complex, the town's golf courses and its other parks, fields and sports venues to more clearly define what is and isn't allowed on the properties.

To allow development of a hotel on the site, Herberger said, "makes no sense to me."

Only board member Duncan Black spoke in favor of the project, saying the original plans for the Northtown Center ice rink complex called for building five ice rinks and a hotel. Ultimately, four rinks were built without a hotel. The town today is considering adding a fifth rink and, Black said, "I think that putting a hotel in there now is still a viable option."

Jerri Kaplan, who lives on nearby Das Court, said she and her neighbors are worried about noise, lights and traffic from the hotel if it is built. She said she also is concerned about the loss of green space.

"We're against it," Kaplan said. "It's a beautiful park."

Most of the 3-acre portion of the site, however, currently is filled by a detention pond.

Uniland had an exclusive agreement in place to bring a hotel to its University Corporate Center office park, off Maple Road, under the Hampton by Hilton brand. Kost said Thursday night that Uniland is moving forward with the Northtown Center hotel in place of the Corporate Center hotel.

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