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Kulpa reveals his plans for Amherst as next town supervisor

Attention Town of Amherst residents, your new supervisor-elect would like to have a conversation with you.

Hours after winning the right to lead Erie County's second most populous municipality, Brian J. Kulpa was brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for incorporating residents' input into the town's future.

"I want to create real, grassroots-driven planning efforts," he said Wednesday in his downtown office at architecture and planning firm Clark Patterson Lee.

A half-hour interview offered a glimpse of specifics and some insight into his vision for the town of 126,000 residents, now that he was handed a victory in Tuesday's election by a 52-48 percent margin.

Neighborhood committees

Kulpa is calling for steering committees for at least six neighborhoods, including the Garnet Park area of Eggertsville, Snyder, the area of Fairways Boulevard and Frankhauser Road adjacent to the former Westwood Country Club, Willow Ridge, northeast Amherst and Williamsville.

"We're going to go to each one of these neighborhoods, each one of these pieces of earth that makes up Amherst, individually put together neighborhood meetings and talk about where that neighborhood wants to go," said Kulpa.

Kulpa elected Amherst town supervisor as Democrats win full control of board

More 'complete streets'

Kulpa, 39, is taking a page from his leadership approach as mayor of Williamsville, where he frequently promotes collaboration and conversation as planning tools in the small village of 5,200 residents.

Kulpa ran on his record of accomplishments as mayor, including transforming the back-alley byway Spring Street into a vibrant village square and implementation of the "Picture Main Street" initiative, which next year will see traffic-calming measures for Route 5 through the village to provide greater pedestrian access.

"We're going to take Picture Main Street to Snyder, Eggertsville to redefine our Main Street's streetscape," he said.

He wants Sheridan Drive, another busy state road, to also get the "complete street" treatment.

Stormwater solutions

Under Kulpa, Spring Street received a makeover that included green infrastructure improvements such as rain gardens and permeable pavement to capture and filter polluted stormwater before it enters Ellicott Creek.

He points to the village's comprehensive plan, which called for the historic water mill on Spring Street to become the centerpiece of a village square with a weekly farmers market.

"Spring Street got redone and businesses send me emails telling me about how their profits doubled from last year during the summer quarter," he said. "It's not rocket science. It's 'adhere to what you planned.'"

That initiative can be translated to the wider town, Kulpa said.

"I'll be damned if we're going to get another plaza that's going to shed all that stormwater into an overcapacity stormwater system," he said. "Shed it into rain gardens. It really doesn't cost that much more."

Transforming plazas

There are opportunities for better planning at retail centers all across the 52-square-mile town, he said, pointing to the Dash's plaza at Klein and Hopkins roads in the town's Clearfield neighborhood as one example.

"It's not a particularly awesome piece of architecture, but there's a vibrancy," he said. "There's some things we could do to fix it to make it even better. But Dash's, Clearfield, there's something going on there. How do we capture those moments and what does it mean for the surrounding neighborhood?"

Or the Maple Ridge Plaza at Sweet Home and Maple roads, for example, could be made more "conducive" to college life for nearby University at Buffalo students, he said. In fact, partnering with the town's colleges, including UB, Erie Community College and Daemen College, on a grand scale and erasing the border between town and gown is a huge priority.

"We've got to break through that perimeter of a centralized campus and connect better to its surroundings," he said.

Vacant office space

The town is faced with an excess of available office space in business parks.

"Time to address that," he said. "Let's talk about how you make Centerpointe mixed-use. Do you blend residential in?"

Transportation projects

Extension of NFTA light rail or bus rapid transit on Niagara Falls Boulevard is another priority, along with a Youngs Road interchange with the Thruway, which he called a "no brainer" that would provide access from downtown Buffalo directly to the airport and ECC's North Campus.

"We don't have an interchange for the airport off the Thruway," he said. "It's the only city I know without that interchange function."

'The process is broke'

Imagine Amherst, an ongoing attempt to do much of what Kulpa is proposing, is "screwed up," he said, because it turned into a "top-down approach, one-size-fits-all, spray-fire planning" not the grassroots, neighborhood-led approach he advocates.

"It starts and stops with process," he said. "The process is broke. We're going to fix the process."

Success comes from bringing residents into the fold and creating a townwide identity from its many smaller neighborhoods, he said.

"We have stupid conversations in this town because we try to address everything at the board level without actually putting together a plan for what we want," he said. "Let's say, 'Here's what we want. Here's where we want it' and then go do it."

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