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Developer sues Amherst over rejected $50 million student housing project

An out-of-town developer is suing the Amherst Town Board over its rejection of a $50 million student housing development.

Core Spaces wanted to build a 154-unit complex on North Forest Road, about one mile north of the University at Buffalo North Campus, but needed the Town Board to lift deed restrictions on the property and to issue a special use permit for the project.

The request had the backing of various town officials, and the Amherst Planning Board, but tenants of the nearby Bryant Woods Office Park objected to the developer's plans, saying the student housing would bring increased crime and nuisance problems to the area. The Town Board voted unanimously in July to turn down the developer's request.

"The zoning restrictions are there to protect the neighborhood, which is a business neighborhood and an office park," Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said just before the vote.

Core Spaces responded late last month by filing an Article 78 petition in State Supreme Court, saying the board's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and wasn't supported by the evidence. Core Spaces is asking a judge to overturn that decision and grant both applications as requested.

"I think it's the most ridiculous decision the Town Board has ever issued,"said Jeffery D. Palumbo, an attorney with Barclay Damon who represents Core Spaces. "If you don't put student housing that close to the University at Buffalo, where it's permitted, where do you put it?"

Core Spaces, which has offices in Chicago and Austin, Texas, has developed upscale student housing throughout the country, but this would be the company's first project in the region. The company proposes constructing the Hub at Amherst, a four-story building on 6.4 acres at 2915, 2925 and 2949 North Forest Road, near Bryant Woods South.

The zoning on the parcels normally would allow student housing. But deed restrictions, dating back about 30 years, limit development to office facilities.

Core Spaces filed applications to lift the restrictions and for special use permits, saying the site could accommodate the project and the location was ideal for student housing.

The engineering department, building department and others signed off on the developer's requests, according to documents included in the Article 78 petition, and the Planning Board earlier this year unanimously recommended lifting of the deed restrictions and issuing of the special use permit.

But tenants of the office park said the student housing would be too close to their businesses and would bring criminal activity, lewd misbehavior, increased traffic and lower property values. They pointed to statistics collected from town police on the large volume of calls to other off-campus student apartments.

The Town Board agreed, saying Core Spaces had the right project but the wrong location.

Palumbo said in an interview that the board made a "totally political" decision to satisfy the demands of the business tenants, instead of following the law. Student housing can co-exist with offices, Palumbo said, and any police activity at the other student apartments takes place almost entirely inside the buildings.

The sides will appear in court as soon as Sept. 21. The town has until Sept. 16 to respond to the suit.

"Initially, our position is the board acted appropriately," said Stanley J. Sliwa, the town attorney.

Sliwa said he still is reviewing the petition, but he may raise a question of whether Core Spaces -- there technically are three related companies -- has standing to sue the town. Palumbo said that is a standard tack to take in an Article 78 case, and he's not concerned.

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