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Amherst supervisor candidates agree: Send Westwood back to drawing board

One candidate for Amherst town supervisor wants to see the former Westwood Country Club preserved as a park. The other wants to play golf there.

But they both agree a developer’s plan for a mix of housing, retail and commercial space and park needs to go back to the drawing board.

A lack of sanitary sewer capacity for the site between Maple Road and Sheridan Drive has been identified as the main obstacle to the $250 million project, which Democratic candidate Brian J. Kulpa calls "a simple math problem" the developer would have to solve before proceeding.

His opponent agrees.

"Right now, as the plan stands, Westwood cannot continue because they don't have the sewers," said Town Clerk Marjory H. Jaeger, a Conservative. "That's a fact."

But that's where their positions diverge.

Kulpa, Williamsville's mayor and an urban planner, said there's an opportunity for creating a park and preserving the historic clubhouse as "a world-class cultural center, which we don't have in the Town of Amherst." Setting up a conservancy would ensure dedicated funding to maintain such a park, he added.

"I believe we have an opportunity to create an awesome green space," he said.

Meanwhile, Jaeger noted Amherst residents will choose three new Town Board members on Election Day, representing an opportunity to reset negotiations among the three major stakeholders -- neighbors, the town and the developer, Mensch Capital Partners.

She wants to revisit a proposed swap of the Westwood property for the municipal-owned Audubon Golf Course. Negotiations for a swap collapsed last year.

"I want to play golf there again," Jaeger said of Westwood. "That's what I want to happen and with a new Town Board we are opening up the door to going back to the swap and having that land remain as it is."

Mensch acquired the property in 2012. The project would also require rezoning much of the 171-acre site.

Both candidates acknowledge that finding the millions of dollars needed to purchase Westwood from Mensch, swap it or create a park represents a significant hurdle. Estimates to remediate the site contaminated by years of pesticide use have been pegged at between $6 million and $9 million.

The current Town Board, however, may put its stamp on the matter before the end of the year. The board is expected to review a final generic environmental impact statement as early as its Nov. 20 meeting.

If the statement finds that the project would have a negative impact on the environment and the Town Board accepts those findings, the developer would need to come back to the town with new information showing the issues have been addressed, said Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein.

That's when the new Town Board, including either Kulpa or Jaeger, would take the reins.

"It's our goal to identify all the issues and give the new Town Board a roadmap for what needs to be done," Weinstein said.

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