Weekly Feature

2018-02-28 / Front Page

Town seeks to bring Amherst Central Park to fruition

by KEATON T. DEPRIEST Associate Editor

Mensch Capital Partners, owners of the former Westwood Country Club, 772 N. Forest Road, are collaborating with Supervisor Brian Kulpa and other town officials for the possible creation of an Amherst Central Park. 
Photo by David F. ShermanPurchase color photos atwww.BeeNews.com Mensch Capital Partners, owners of the former Westwood Country Club, 772 N. Forest Road, are collaborating with Supervisor Brian Kulpa and other town officials for the possible creation of an Amherst Central Park. Photo by David F. ShermanPurchase color photos atwww.BeeNews.com A rough idea of Amherst Central Park can be imagined as a blending of activities for children and adults, in addition to retail and recreational areas, and plenty of green space continued throughout the center of the town.

The formation of such a feature in the town could occur in the not-too-distant future. According to Supervisor Brian Kulpa, a public discussion relating to the creation of an Amherst Central Park could be set for as early as May.

“The idea is to ask the community ‘What do you want in an Amherst Central Park?’” Kulpa said. “Finding out what people want programmatically is important.”

After introducing details of the concept in January during his State of the Town address, Kulpa said plans are moving forward to “identify all of the stakeholders and possible parcels” that would be included in a central park.

“In building a central park, this is a townwide pursuit,” the supervisor said.

He said the town has a vast amount of open space within the community that is often not found in other municipalities. The supervisor said some ideas for the central park plan are to incorporate open space and corridors of the town into the project. One such area, he said, is the entry into the University at Buffalo’s North Campus on Maple Road and the nearby former Buffalo Gun Club property.

Another facet of the central park could be to incorporate the town’s current golf courses, especially the Audubon Golf Course, at 500 Maple Road, which abuts the former gun club parcel.

In addition to discussions and meetings about a central park with stakeholders such as University at Buffalo officials and representatives from Uniland Development — the company that will be developing a four-story hotel adjacent to the town’s Northtown Center — Kulpa has also sought the input of Mensch Capital Partners.

The development firm owns the former Westwood Country Club at 772 N. Forest Road. In July 2014, Mensch introduced a plan to build a $250 million, mixed-use project on the 171-acre site, which is near Sheridan Drive.

The development is planned to include a hotel, parks, residential properties and areas for retail, senior living and green space features, such as pocket parks.

After a series of reviews by town officials and the public, the Town Board in December filed the issuance of a findings statement, noting that potentially significant adverse environmental impacts of the proposed Westwood Neighborhood would not be avoided or mitigated in plans put forth by Mensch.

Such impacts noted by the town included increased traffic in areas surrounding Westwood in addition to flooding of sanitary sewers during heavy rain.

Kulpa said the findings statement pointed out the limitations of Mensch’s proposal. The supervisor said that while there are constraints for the redevelopment of Westwood, it is his intention in working with the Mensch firm to find the best uses for what has been a vacant parcel for several years.

“It’s not OK for a property to sit vacant in the middle of town with a brownfield fence site around it,” Kulpa said.

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

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

Shaevel said he and other members of the Mensch firm met in January and had a “very collaborative conversation about [Kulpa’s] vision for a new Amherst Central Park.”

“We have agreed with Supervisor Kulpa to reboot the planning process in the context of a new Amherst Central Park District that would include the former Westwood Country Club site and other adjacent sites,” Shaevel said.

He also said a pending lawsuit against the town has been paused as the discussions about a central park are initiated.

“In the spirit of cooperation, we have put our lawsuit against the Town of Amherst into abeyance, meaning the court proceedings are effectively on hold until further notice,” Shaevel said.

Kulpa said he was glad the suit has been put on hold because it allows for the meetings and discussions to “not be operated under the pressure of litigation.” Shaevel also noted that it is the firm’s intention to find the best solution possible in redeveloping its land as it may fit into the scope of a central park proposal.

“We have a lot of time and resources invested to date, so we would definitely like to find a win-win scenario for all parties, including the town, its residents, our neighbors and us,” Shaevel said.

Kulpa said that from the town’s meeting with Mensch officials, it was agreed to make a charter that would contain a draft schedule of what could be accomplished in the next 18 months regarding a central park.

“My job is to create the vision or template to get everyone involved,” Kulpa said. “[Mensch] is welcome to be involved as much as they want,” Kulpa said.

The supervisor added that renovations for the reuse of Westwood’s existing clubhouse could be part of the central park plans.

“Our goal is to celebrate the tradition, history of Westwood, but not recreate the wheel,” Kulpa said. “A certain level of construction has to occur there. We could possibly rehab the building and make it into what Marcy Casino has become. We are going to look at all of the opportunities for that property.”

Shaevel said he and his partners at Mensch are looking forward to following the supervisor’s lead in the new planning initiative.

In addition to meeting with all of the interested developers, parties and members of the community, Kulpa said all possible opportunities for grant funding need to be sought for the possible park.

He said the planning of the park would be done through resources of the Planning Department, with the grant writing being conducted by Maggie Hamilton Winship, who was hired by the town in January through a shared services plan with the Village of Williamsville. In addition to grant writing, her roles in working for the town include strategic planning and economic development.

“We want to make this all as cost effective as possible,” Kulpa said.

He added that areas of the central park could be maintained through a special capital reserve fund or by licensing maintenance of portions of the park to different groups, organizations or companies that have a stake in the park.

“The best I can do is come in and be level and respect everyone who has investments in this area,” Kulpa said.

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