Weekly Feature



2017-09-20 / Front Page

Public cites drainage, increased traffic as main concerns

Westwood neighborhood
by KEATON T. DEPRIEST Associate Editor

The next phase of what has already been a more than three-year process began Monday when the public received updated details on Westwood, an approximately 171-acre, $250 million mixed-use project on the site of a former country club.

More than 25 people voiced their concerns about the potential adverse neighborhood effects the proposed development could create during a public hearing on Westwood’s revised draft generic environmental impact statement.

The property’s owners, Mensch Capital Partners, first submitted plans for the reuse of the property as Westwood neighborhood in July 2014. The site is located at 772 N. Forest Road at Sheridan Drive.


For details on a lawsuit Mensch Capital filed Monday against town officials, click the below link:

http://www.amherstbee.com/news/2017-09-20/Local_News/Mensch_lawsuit_alleges_town_in_violation_of_Open_M.html


Addressing a near-capacity crowd during the hearing, Sean Hopkins, attorney for Mensch Capital, detailed specifics of the development, which is planned to include a hotel, parks, residential properties, and areas for retail, senior living, and other green space features, such as pocket parks.

“Keep in mind that historically, Westwood wasn’t open to the public,” Hopkins said. “Now it will be.”

The residential uses would be divided into 41 houses, 83 patio houses, 130 attached townhouses, 180 multifamily apartments and 212 upper story apartments.

Hopkins said Westwood’s proposed hotel would be limited to no more than four stories and the senior housing facility would not be higher than three stories.

According to Hopkins, about 83.3 acres, or nearly half the project site, will be preserved as permanent open space.

He said about 45 acres of a publicly accessible park area would be provided on the eastern side of the property. The park would include 85 public parking spaces, a 6.2-acre lake and an outdoor amphitheater.

Hopkins said Mensch Capital estimates Westwood would create $52 million to $63 million in new property tax revenue.

“It’s important for people to remember, too, that the conceptual plan presented tonight will not be the final form,” Hopkins said.

Andrew Shaevel, managing partner for Mensch Capital, said brownfield contamination remediation is needed on the property after state officials determined arsenic and other potentially harmful substances were found within the soils of the project site.

He said Mensch seeks to remediate all development areas for unrestricted use, which includes removal of 6 to 18 inches of soil from greens, tee boxes, fairways and limited removal of some material in rough areas.

Shaevel said the mature wooded areas would be remediated by removing at least 6 inches of soil from the same areas. Some of the remediation could also include covering the site with asphalt, concrete pavement or 1 foot of clean soil.

He added that while the presence of contaminants is consistent with brownfield standards, state Department Environmental of Conservation review shows that the contamination is substantially below levels that would classify the site as a public health hazard.

Additionally, Shaevel said that because of the property’s status as environmentally contaminated brownfield, the site can not be re-purposed for any use, including recreation or public open space without being remediated.

Shaevel said full remedial investigation and remediation of the contamination — which he said is estimated to cost between $6 million and $10 million — would be conducted upon the approval of Westwood’s rezoning applications.

Mensch Capital is seeking to rezone about 140 acres of the property of the former Westwood Country Club, 772 N. Forest Road, as follows:

• 131.79 acres to Traditional Neighborhood Development

• 5.13 acres to Multifamily Residential

• 1.16 acres to General Business

Hopkins said about 30 acres will remain zoned recreation conservation.

A public hearing on the rezoning requests will be held in the future after the Planning Board completes its review.

The updated site plan also includes a north-south road that will connect Maple Road and Sheridan Drive. He said plans also include an east-west connecting road from North Forest to Frankhauser roads. Hopkins said a roundabout is also being proposed on North Forest Road near Westwood to further alleviate traffic congestion.

Also part of the update plans are for Mensch Capital to donate an allocated portion of land at the intersection of Sheridan Drive and Frankhauser Road that would be used for a Snyder Fire Department substation.

In addressing drainage on the Westwood property and how the development may affect storm and sanitary sewer systems, Hopkins said there will be a “sufficient capacity” to handle significant impacts during rainstorms or heavy snow-melt scenarios.

The attorney said the neighborhood does have flooding and sanitary sewage issues and often leads to a “less than ideal situation that needs to be addressed.”

To combat and alleviate flooding, Hopkins said the project is designed to avoid adverse impacts to Ellicott Creek’s flood storage capacity, and the development allows for the creation of a 6.2-acre lake and associated pond to detain stormwater.

“The proposed dedicated greenspace along Ellicott Creek will be designed to accept greater volumes of water to create excess capacity during potential flooding events than required,” he said.

Hopkins also said Mensch officials are seeking updated data from the town Engineering Department regarding ways of mitigating sanitary sewer issues, including updating the infrastructure.

“It’s important to remember that this is an existing problem,” Hopkins said. “It’s not attributed to Westwood,”

The final item discussed by Hopkins related to the former Westwood clubhouse, which he said could possibly be preserved; however, at this point, Mensch officials are unsure of how it may be reused in the current development concept.

In the public’s opportunity to speak, the first of three 15-minute rebuttals were led by Jennifer Snyder Haas, whose presentation was followed by a standing applause from the audience.

She called Westwood an “intense plan,” adding that the size of the project would not preserve the current quality of life in the neighborhood.

“This is not a plan designed to fit in with the surrounding neighborhoods,” Haas said.

She said the project will create unnecessary traffic congestion and overburden the sewer and drainage systems, and called an estimated 10 years of construction on the property unacceptable from the standpoint of the neighbors.

“[Ten years] may be nothing to investors, but it’s a long time for neighbors in the surrounding area,” Haas said. “Make no mistake, the taxpayers will be the losers if this goes through.”

Drainage, traffic and the project’s density became the majority of opposing concerns noted by more than 25 people who spoke for up to three minutes following the 15-minute rebuttals.

The three-hour public hearing closed with remarks by Supervisor Barry Weinstein, who said the comments made by the speakers will be part of records used by Mensch in the creation of a final draft generic environmental impact statement.

The supervisor said the FGEIS could possibly be considered by the Town Board during its Nov. 20 meeting.

He added that a public hearing on Mensch’s rezoning requests could possibly be set for a meeting in December.

In the meantime, written comments regarding Monday’s public hearing and the DGEIS will be accepted by the Town Clerk’s Office, 5583 Main St., Amherst, until 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2.

Further details about the project — including renderings and site plan information — can be viewed on the website www.westwoodamherst.com.

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