Six years after a group of developers purchased the Westwood Country Club in Amherst, the partners still don't know if they can fulfill their $250 million vision for the site.
Mensch Capital Partners unveiled its redevelopment plan in 2014, and the latest version calls for housing for 1,700 people, retail and commercial space and parkland.
But the ambitious project stalled after running into stiff opposition from some neighbors.
Since the spring, Amherst has led a review of how the Westwood site could fit within the redevelopment of a larger "Amherst Central Park" neighborhood, including the University at Buffalo and two town-owned golf courses.
Mensch said it remains patient as that analysis continues. But the group has made one change: Andrew Shaevel has stepped down as managing partner, though he remains a Mensch partner.
Shaevel was sued in June by state prosecutors and federal regulators on accusations a company he owns distributed and collected on “phantom debts.”
Mark E. Hamister and his son, Daniel, of the Hamister Group are the new managing partners. Mark Hamister said he supports the ongoing planning process and is open to making concessions to win support of town officials and residents.
Q: Why did the partners replace Shaevel?
A: He is now diverted in his time. He has to pay attention to defending himself and dealing with those issues. He no longer has the time and focus. Our organization had already been providing all of the development services for the project anyway.
Q: What accounts for the long delay in the project?
A: I think there was a lack of leadership in the town. I mean that the prior supervisor did not develop a collaborative planning process for one of the biggest opportunities for the Town of Amherst in the last 20 years to do something special with a large piece of land in a central portion of the town. The current supervisor – by training and education as well as experience – is an urban planner. He understands the importance of good design and a collaborative process.
Q: Can you find common ground with your opponents?
A: I can't speak to those who want to build nothing except to suggest that I hope the collaborative process, which includes their voice, continues. I do believe that a large number of residents in that area of Amherst would like to see something done with the collective property that the town supervisor has now identified.
Q: Have you made any changes since sending your last proposal to town officials?
A: We think it would be inappropriate to recommend changes before they recommend what should happen. And that we should instead respond by saying, if this is what you see as the overall vision for the site, here's what we're willing to do and here's what we're not gonna do.
Q: Why haven't you cleaned up the property?
A: We will not be remediating that property without a development plan for that property – and possibly that property combined with others – approved by the town. Simply because it would cost millions and millions of dollars and if we have no source of those funds, it can't happen.
Q: Will you take down the fence around the site that some neighbors call the "spite fence?"
A: We will not take it down, for legal reasons and for safety reasons, both of which are connected. This was not about spite; this is about being responsible and saying to the public do not subject yourself to the dangers on this site.
Q: Is there any point at which you cut your losses altogether?
A: I doubt it. We have the staying power to go through this process. We are extremely bullish about the current process underway to do something good for the Town of Amherst with this site. Personally, I'd rather not see us walk away from this project and leave a brownfield in the middle of the Town of Amherst.