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Editorial: Westwood developers, Town of Amherst making strides

It has been years in the making, and while there are still details to be sorted out, the accord reached between developers of the former Westwood Country Club in Amherst and town officials is worth noting.

As reported by The News’ Stephen T. Watson, the idea would be to transform the former club into a park, largely remaining undeveloped. The $250 million redevelopment plan, long stalled, now proposes senior housing on the Maple Road side of the 170-acre property.

This is a tentative deal that envisions Mensch Capital Partners building a hotel near the Northtown Center complex. Housing is also contemplated along the edge of the town’s 18-hole Audubon Golf Course.

Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said the “parties have not yet reached a final agreement,” adding that specifics have to be worked out “on what, precisely, will be built where.”

The real news is this: Proposals discussed among Mensch Capital officials, Westwood neighbors and the town could potentially break the logjam.

Movement has certainly been a long time coming.

Back in 2012, Mensch Capital Partners bought the Westwood property between Maple Road and Sheridan Drive just west of North Forest Road. Plans stalled amid neighborhood unrest. Nothing seemed to be getting done – until, possibly, now.

Kulpa, who was not supervisor when the process started, suggested the “devil’s in the details.”

He’s right, of course. Any development would face hurdles of approvals on a local and even state level. The town and Mensch would have to formally swap different parcels as part of the project and the town would have to figure out how to pay for improvements at Westwood park. Kulpa said he envisions this piece as Amherst Central Park.

Judith Ferraro, a leading member of the “Keep Westwood Green” group called the current development “positive.” This description is far removed, as Watson noted, from September 2017 when the developer accused the Town Board of “numerous illegal actions” in a State Supreme Court lawsuit.

A few years ago, Mensch Capital’s redevelopment plan called for housing 1,700 people, retail and commercial space and parkland. It met with resistance from concerned neighbors.

In late 2017, town officials asked for a scaled-down plan. Kulpa took office last year and indicated he was open to developing a portion of the site, but in the context of a comprehensive plan that would include town-owned properties and the University at Buffalo North Campus.

Kulpa, Mensch managing partner Mark E. Hamister and neighborhood leaders have been meeting over the past few months and now the ground seems to be moving.

As Kulpa said, the details need to be worked out and approvals acquired. The process is still in motion, and there is no guarantee but at least, finally, there is reason for cautious optimism.