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Clarence bats to look for new home when Brothers of Mercy expansion begins

In Clarence, they learn about the birds and the bees and the bats and the trees.

The Brothers of Mercy Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is building a $17.5 million addition on its sprawling campus in the town.

And to make way for the two new buildings, the Brothers need to cut down 154 trees – and they want to do it by the end of this month.

That's because the cluster of trees is near a habitat for the Northern long-eared bat, which the federal government considers a threatened species. Strict regulations govern what can be done in or near the bats' living area, and when it can be done.

In this case, the state Department of Environmental Conservation recommends any tree clearing at the Brothers' property be done between November and March, so as not to disturb the bats during their mating and roosting seasons.

"I was surprised by that, but it fit within our project schedule so it was fine," said Peter Eimer, CEO of the Brothers of Mercy.

The Clarence Town Board discussed the matter of the bats and the trees at a work session last Wednesday. The board likely will vote on the Brothers' request at its next meeting this month, giving the organization just a couple of weeks to take down the trees to stay in the bats' good graces.

Town officials say the Brothers of Mercy will plant 76 trees, along with hundreds of shrubs and ornamental grasses, to replace the cleared trees. They said the property remains heavily wooded and the expansion won't remove trees that serve as a buffer between campus buildings and neighboring homes.

"It's a pretty massive site, and a lot of it's protected by wetlands that they could never touch," said James Callahan, Clarence's director of community development.

The Brothers of Mercy plans to build an assisted-living facility and a memory care building, connected by a central lobby, in the heart of its campus at Bergtold and Ransom roads.

They now have a 70-bed assisted-living facility, but the new 64-bed, two-story building is meant to provide improved services and living arrangements. The organization doesn't provide memory care housing and the new, one-story building will have 32 beds.

The organization would convert vacated space in its existing assisted-living facility for clinics and offices at an estimated additional cost of up to $7 million.

Expansion at Brothers of Mercy campus in Clarence nears final approval

The Town Board has granted a special exception use permit for the expansion, but the town Planning Board still must sign off on the development plan.

To make way for the new construction, the Brothers would clear 154 trees on a roughly 7-acre site. Wendel conducted a survey of the size and species of the trees in question.

Normally, the town wouldn't grant permission to start tree clearing until a project has received final approval, officials said. But this is an unusual situation because of the presence of the bats.

The Northern long-eared bat was named a threatened species in 2015. The bat is found in 37 states, primarily in the eastern and north central United States. It's a medium-sized bat with long ears and light brown fur.

The greatest threat to the bat, far more than the loss of habitat, is the fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, the DEC said.

The trees targeted for clearing on the Brothers' campus are not a known habitat for the bat, the agency said, but there is a chance bats could be found there during the warmer months.

That's why the agency recommends – but does not require – the clearing of these trees between Nov. 1 and March 31. The agency also asks tree trimmers to stop if they see a bat while working.

"The town prefers to have the project in place first before we remove trees," Clarence Supervisor Patrick Casilio said. "Brothers of Mercy is a steady customer. There's a campus there already, with existing buildings. That's why we would approve something like that. But if it's a raw site, say 10 or 20 acres where somebody wants to clear all the trees out, we definitely give that a hard look before we would approve something like that."

Town officials said the tree cutting itself isn't generating controversy because it's part of an expansion of an existing development; the trees coming down are located in the center of the property and don't act as a buffer between the Brothers' buildings and neighbors' homes; and many more trees remain on the expansive property.

Eimer, who said he learned about the bats about two weeks ago, said 154 trees may sound like a lot but this section of the campus is mostly fields. "It's pretty sparse," he said.

Presuming the Town Board approves the tree clearing at its March 13 meeting, the Brothers would have two weeks to cut down the trees before April 1, said Jonathan Bleuer, the town's assistant director of community development. He said he understands the Brothers would leave the toppled trees in place and wait for a later date to take them away and to grind the stumps.

In their place, as part of the landscaping for the two new buildings, the Brothers plan to plant 76 trees, 617 shrubs and 2,759 clumps of ornamental grasses or ground cover, according to documents filed with the town.

"We usually try to make up what was lost, in one form or another," Casilio said.

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