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Clarence subdivision plan stalled for decades is now subject of court fight

A developer is taking the Town of Clarence to court to revive a planned upscale subdivision that remains stalled even after receiving Town Board backing two years ago.

Cimato Enterprises is asking a judge to let it proceed with its proposed Woodland Hills subdivision – a project of 76 houses more than 25 years in the making.

The legal fight hinges on an adjustment Cimato made last year to the development plans. The town found the amended plan violates Clarence's zoning code and the Town Board in November rejected Cimato's updated application.

Cimato argues in its legal filing, known as an Article 78 challenge, that the Town Board's action is "arbitrary and capricious" and should be overturned.

"The town anticipates that we will successfully defend this lawsuit," said Town Attorney Lawrence M. Meckler, who declined to discuss specifics.

Owner Fred Cimato and his attorney Ralph C. Lorigo did not respond to messages seeking comment on the filing.

Cimato, who acquired the 52-acre property in 1995, has pursued the project since the late 1980s. The town's formal review of the proposed subdivision began a few years later.

The subdivision, first named Fox Trace East and now known as Woodland Hills, targets a rectangular piece of vacant land between Greiner Road and Sheridan Drive.

Harris Hill Road and Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church are to the west, and Meadowbrook Road and Brookfield Country Club are to the east.

Cimato initially planned to build as many as 92 single-family houses on the site.

After neighbors objected to smaller houses eyed for about 28 of the lots, Cimato backed away from that piece of the project. Neighbors over the years also have raised concerns about drainage and traffic.

The Town Board in 2004 rezoned the property from agricultural to residential.

The developer had to work around wetlands on the property and the question of how to construct a sewer connection to the property also led to long delays.

At the time the project was unveiled, homes in that section of Clarence were served by septic systems but the site was added to the town's Sewer District No. 10 in 2013.

Cimato previously said the houses will start at $350,000 and, after receiving Town Board approval in March 2018, said it hoped to start construction on the first phase of the 77-house subdivision that fall.

Clarence subdivision gets the go-ahead after 20-year delay

That never happened.

Jonathan Bleuer, the town's assistant director of community development, said the town didn't do anything to hold up the project following the sewer district approval six years ago.

"Since that time, it's really been an issue of access to the property," Bleuer said, adding, "They don't have full access from Harris Hill."

What's the problem? The concept approved two years ago shows connections to the site from Greiner Road to the north and Harris Hill Road to the west. Cimato Enterprises' amended concept plan has the same access from Greiner but moves the Harris Hill connector road about 300 feet to the north and reduces the project to 76 houses.

That's because, according to Cimato's legal filing, the lengthy project delay caused the developer to lose its right to purchase the land needed to build the Harris Hill access road along its original path.

Town planners told Cimato's attorney last year the amended plan violated the town's zoning code because it had too many houses on a planned cul-de-sac and the lots for two houses that sit outside the sewer district are too small.

Cimato, the town said, needed a variance to move forward with the amended project plan.

Lorigo, the Cimato attorney, argued the change to the approved plan was so minor – primarily moving a road a few hundred feet – that it is in compliance with the original plan.

But the Town Board in November rejected the amended plan, with Councilman Paul Shear saying everyone liked the original but he has concerns about the new version, according to meeting minutes.

The Article 78 challenge states the Town Board unfairly rejected the amended plan without sending it to the Planning Board for review and without holding a public hearing on the proposal.

The amended plan "does not violate current land use regulations" and the Town Board decision isn't supported by the evidence in the record, wrote Lorigo and his partner, Frank J. Jacobson.

"The Town Board in all respects acted appropriately in dealing with this development," said Meckler, the town attorney, who was in the process of assigning the case to outside counsel.

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