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Town houses, not pizza, 'key' to reviving Amherst neighborhood

Amherst officials view plans to build town house-style apartments on the vacant site of a former Pizza Hut as an opportunity to boost the fortunes of that section of Bailey Avenue.

A development group that includes architect David Sutton wants to build a nine-unit town house building at 3980 Bailey Ave., at Grover Cleveland Highway, according to documents filed with Amherst's Planning Department. Sutton also is providing architectural services for the project.

Sutton said he is working closely with Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa on the development, which could cost up to $3.5 million, to make sure it fits with what the town wants to see happen on Bailey Avenue between Main Street and Sheridan Drive.

"I think it's key to the development of the neighborhood," Sutton said.

The Pizza Hut on the site closed in 2008. The family behind the short-lived Theodore's Red Hots chain bought the property in 2011 with plans to open a restaurant there.

After they tore down the old Pizza Hut building, they discovered new setback and green space requirements would reduce the permissible size of the planned restaurant and its parking lot. Theodore's never built on the site before shutting down in 2016.

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A limited liability company bought the 0.64-acre property for $65,000 at an Erie County foreclosure auction last fall before its members had firm plans for the site, Sutton said.

The partners plan a 2½-story building with nine units of primarily three and four bedrooms each.

Sutton said they want the exterior to look like brownstones but the developers are reviewing design details with the town. The project could cost as little as $2.5 million or as much as $3.5 million, depending on the type of building materials used.

The partners expect the market-rate apartments to appeal to University at Buffalo students and faculty, Sutton said. The property is located between UB's campuses in Buffalo and Amherst.

Sutton described the area surrounding the site, with its aging housing and commercial stock, as "up and coming." But he said the developers want to help revive the community.

Kulpa and Amherst officials have made this Eggertsville neighborhood a target of the town's community development efforts.

In one step toward that goal, the town last year bought the former Buffalo Harley-Davidson, at 4220 Bailey Ave., as part of its plans to turn the dealership and service shop into a police training complex and community outreach center.

Amherst buys former Harley-Davidson dealership for new training facility

Kulpa said he would support providing tax breaks to the town house project, if needed, because Sutton and his partners are taking a chance on the neighborhood and their development could serve as a catalyst for future growth there.

"We can't just let housing values drop and property values drop," he said.

The site is zoned appropriately for the project, but the developers obtained two variances from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals for the building height and for residences on its first floor.

The Amherst Planning Board is expected to review the project site plan at its May meeting. Sutton said construction could begin this fall.

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