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Buffalo News,   January 19, 2001  by Susan Schulman

      AMHERST IS REOPENING-   and widening -- its search for someone to redevelop the St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse.

       The town has not closed the door on the developer selected for the project, but given delays with that proposal, officials have decided it's time to see if any other developers have a better idea.

       The town engineering office is advertising the project, with the Town Board planning a review Feb. 5 of any plans that come in.

       The big difference between these proposals and the original ones is that, the first time, the town sought a developer interested in turning the motherhouse into a senior citizens development.

       This time, the town is open to any and all proposals, though it reserves the right to reject any plans it thinks are inappropriate for a park setting in the location.

       The developer previously selected for the project, Peregrine Development Co., is welcome to resubmit a proposal that would be considered along with all others, town officials said. Peregrine hopes to get backing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make the project financially viable, but it could be another 90 days before HUD makes a decision, town officials said.

       Several Town Board members said the original idea to limit the property to a senior citizens development was too restrictive and amounted to pandering to the town's senior citizen community.

       The board further restricted the developer by imposing such conditions as historic preservation and low-income housing requirements, and setting aside a portion of the building for a town youth program, other Town Board members said.

       "It was unworkable in the marketplace," said Council Member Bob Brewer.

       But the board's decision to broaden the scope of the project was criticized by Council Member Bill Kindel, who said the problem with the initial plan was that the specific developer chosen doesn't have the financial wherewithal for the project.

       Opening the bidding to any use could result in proposals that are inappropriate for the location, Kindel said. In the end, he argued, the process will only further delay the redevelopment.

       Resident Ellen Weissman also expressed concern, recently telling the Town Board that projects which, for example, require a lot of parking would be inappropriate for the parklike setting as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

       The town and the state each paid $2.5 million for the historic building and surrounding land, now a state park.

       The town initially selected Peregrine's proposal to buy the motherhouse from the town for $2.3 million and convert it into a senior development, but that deal has been on the rocks since it was denied tax-exempt status from the town assessor.

       Peregrine didn't prove the housing development would operate on a nonprofit basis, so it didn't qualify for tax-exempt status, according to town Assessor Harry Williams.

       Peregrine also sought tax-exempt status through the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, town officials said, but needs either a letter of credit or HUD backing.

       In addition, Peregrine has dropped its purchase price for the property to $2 million. Or, if the town removes the requirement that Peregrine offer 10 low-income apartments, the developer has offered $2.12 million, town officials said.

       Peregrine officials were not available to comment.

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