Neighbors of a residence for nuns in Amherst object to a zoning change requested by the property's prospective buyer.
Tzetzo Cos. of Buffalo has agreed to buy the St. Mary of the Angels regional house on Reist Street, with plans to convert the building to senior housing, with the nuns allowed to stay.
However, that requires a zoning change, and nearby homeowners fear this reclassification would open up the property to high-density redevelopment.
The Town Board held a public hearing last month but has not yet voted on the rezoning request, to give Tzetzo Cos. and residents time to find common ground. The developer met with neighbors on Saturday and is reassuring them that it doesn't plan to expand on the site.
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities moved to 201 Reist St., near the Amherst-Williamsville border, from the St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse on Mill Street in 1999. The historic former motherhouse is now senior housing and the property is Amherst State Park.
The order is downsizing its properties as its members age. The Sisters of St. Francis also closed the Infant of Prague Shrine, on Main Street in Williamsville, in July. The sale of the shrine and the surrounding half-acre property to Village Park Associates for $20,000 closed last week.
Tzetzo Cos. agreed to allow the 62 nuns at 201 Reist to stay after the sale. Its purchase also is contingent on the approval of the zoning change, said Sean Hopkins, the developer's attorney. The price has not been disclosed.
With nuns living in the building, it is considered to have a religious use that is allowed under its current zoning, said Hopkins and Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa.
However, Tzetzo plans to convert the building to assisted living for lay seniors, and that requires the zoning change on about 7½ acres.
"The fundamental use, the technical use, doesn't change, but the official use changes," Kulpa said.
The developer has no plans to construct a new building, Hopkins said, but the company plans interior work to boost the number of units from the current 73 to 99.
Critics attended October's Amherst Planning Board meeting as well as a Town Board public hearing last month. Signs urging a "no" vote on the rezoning have sprouted up along Reist and neighboring streets.
The Planning Board recommended the Town Board approve the rezoning, but with a restriction on the height of any future buildings on the site.
Gina Montante, one of several neighbors who wrote to the Town Board, said, "If this is allowed, the impacts to our neighborhood will include increased traffic to an already busy street, on-street parking, emergency vehicle traffic and increased delivery trucks in the area – most likely on a 24/7 basis."
Montante urged the Sisters of St. Francis to find an alternative plan for the property.
Hopkins said the developer is willing to work with the neighbors. Kulpa said the Town Board likely will insist on additional protections for residents in the form of deed restrictions.
The Town Board could vote on the rezoning on Dec. 10 but may wait, Kulpa said, to make sure the concerns of both the nuns at 201 Reist and the neighbors are addressed.