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Natale back to square one on Williamsville housing project

Natale Development's latest plan to construct 90 apartments and 32 townhouses in Williamsville is shifting back to its original site, now that a proposed parkland swap with the village is dead.

The company is reviving its initial idea to build the entire project on the site of a former construction yard on California Drive.

The move comes after objections raised by residents, concerns over costs and delays in negotiations combined to kill Natale's plan to build the apartments on a portion of the village's South Long Park, closer to Main Street.

The newest proposal involves a smaller land swap. Natale would allow the village to take control of a historic, railroad-era property in exchange for about a half acre of land owned by the village's public works department.

Natale and village officials say they are optimistic this plan will gain the support of neighbors and the the long-stalled project can soon move forward.

"We've wasted a whole year and a half," said Angelo Natale, CEO of Natale Development.

Natale in 2015 first proposed plans for the former Herbert F. Darling Inc. industrial site, a prime target for redevelopment in the heart of Williamsville. The project then involved building 30 townhomes and 112 apartments on the 5-acre property.

However, opposition from neighbors near the California Drive site, who objected to the project density and to the traffic it would bring, stalled the project by fall 2016.

Natale turned to the village and hashed out the framework of a land swap that would move the apartments over to the baseball diamond at South Long Park. The village, in return, would have received an equal amount of land, about 1.8 acres, to connect the south part of the park to its Lehigh Memory Trail.

Williamsville, developer hash out deal to swap land for housing project

But an organized group of neighbors opposed the loss of a piece of South Long Park. And village officials said the estimated $1 million cost to construct a new part of the park also helped to sink the plan. The prospect of further delays for the state to approve the parkland swap were the final blow.

"It was just a cumulative effect," said Williamsville Mayor Brian J. Kulpa.

Williamsville's South Long Park untouched in latest land swap proposal

That's when Natale went back to its original framework. The company now would build 32 townhome units on the Darling site, which is zoned for multi-family residences, along with about 90 apartment units in three or four buildings.

Natale said the development is smaller than its earlier incarnations, and it fits the zoning, though the developer hasn't submitted a formal plan.

Kulpa said he wants to see the site redeveloped and he wants to see the village take hold of the former Section House. The building would be licensed to the Western New York Railway Historical Society, which operates the nearby Williamsville Lehigh Valley Depot, and the swap also would create a connection between the park and the village's walking trail.

The approval process could begin as soon as October.

Natale hopes to finish construction on the majority of the townhomes, and to complete work on at least some of the apartments, in 2018. The total estimated cost is now $20 million to $25 million.

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