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Buffalo News,   October 6, 1999  by Jay Rey

      Amherst has agreed to talk with two local developers about using the historic St. Mary of the Angels Motherhouse on Mill Street for senior citizens housing.

       But this idea is drawing criticism.

       Amherst is entertaining a proposal by Zaepfel Development Co. of Williamsville and First Amherst Development Group to convert the four-story building into senior apartments.

       The catch is that rather than the developers paying for the costly interior renovations, Amherst -- which is purchasing the building from the Sisters of St. Francis for $2.5 million -- would borrow at least another $6 million to convert the first two floors into apartments and the top two floors into commercial or office space.

       Zaepfel and First Amherst would manage the facility. The revenue from the rents would pay the town's annual debt on the project, the developers told town officials.

       A final decision hasn't been made yet, but the Town Board on Monday voted 5 to 2 to allow Zaepfel and First Amherst to submit more detailed plans within 30 days.

       "If they can prove there will be enough revenue stream for the town to break even, I think it's a go," said Council Member William L. Kindel, a Republican.

       Meanwhile, Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, a Democrat, and Council Member Jane S. Woodward, a Republican, criticized the plan.

       "We cannot take on that debt next year," Grelick said. "Its out of the question."

       Amherst and the state agreed to purchase the Mill Street property as part of a $5 million deal to protect the motherhouse and preserve the surrounding land as a park. Amherst is expected to take title to the motherhouse within the next few months.

       The plan has been that Amherst would dictate a use for the motherhouse -- preferably senior housing -- then sell or lease the building to a developer for that purpose.

       "I don't want to be in the business of running senior housing," Grelick said. "That's not the function of town government."

       Woodward is concerned the project's revenue wouldn't cover debt payments. She also questioned why Amherst can't seek similar proposals from other developers to make sure the town is getting the best arrangement.

       "We don't even know if there's anyone else out there who could give us a better deal and that's wrong," Woodward said. "I think we're playing favorites here."

       DePaul Community Facilities of Rochester and Peregrine Cos. of Syracuse also submitted proposals to use the motherhouse for senior housing.

       DePaul wants to remodel the inside of the motherhouse for 90 to 100 senior apartments with rents from $300 to $520 a month. DePaul would pay the town $68,000 a year, but that wouldn't be enough to cover the town's annual payments toward the cost to buy the property, officials indicated.

       Amherst officials also are cool to Peregrine's proposal to buy the building for $2.1 million, including annual payment in lieu of taxes totaling $50,000. An assisted-living facility with rents from $1,400 to $1,800 a month isn't the type of project Amherst officials had in mind, either.

       In fact, officials are starting to realize using the motherhouse for senior housing may be a bit more complicated than originally anticipated.

       Some board members have indicated they would reconsider other uses for the building, as long as it wasn't a project that hurt the motherhouse or the nearby neighborhood.

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