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Buffalo News,   July 17, 2001  by Susan Schulman

       The St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse will be converted into 102 units of "affordable" senior citizen housing under a contract that the Amherst Town Board on Monday night authorized town Supervisor Susan J. Grelick to sign.

       The units would rent for $480 to $580 per month under the plan, which is dependent on the developer obtaining tax credits.

       The developer, CRS Properties, hopes to close on the property within a year.

       Under the contract, the developer would pay the town $400,000 for the motherhouse and 4.8 acres of property, located on Mill Street, at Amherst State Park. The developer would pay the town $38,000 to $43,000 in lieu of taxes for 15 years, at which time the property would go on the town tax rolls and pay full taxes.

       Also, the developer would pay the town about $3,000 a month to cover utility and maintenance costs at the motherhouse for the next year, while the town continues to own the property prior to closing.

       The Town Board voted, 5-2, Monday night to authorize Grelick to enter into a contract with CRS Properties, whose president is John E. "Skip" Cerio.

       Cerio developed the Amherst Pepsi Center, which has been criticized for the way it was funded and the quality of construction. More recently, Cerio built the Hopkins Court Senior Living Community at Hopkins and North French roads.

       Supporters said Cerio's proposal was the best of seven submitted to the Town Board. It was one of three that called for converting the motherhouse into senior citizen apartments.

       The other two included a proposal combining "affordable" housing with market value units, as well as one from a developer who had been unable to get financing for a similar project in the past. Other plans would have turned the building into offices.

       Monday night's vote was taken amid criticism from some residents who said the public was kept in the dark about details of the plan. A public hearing was never held, and no details were made available until Monday night's meeting, when the vote was taken.

       Resident George Richmond noted that the town routinely holds public hearings that offer details on sewer projects but has provided the public with little information on plans for the motherhouse.

       Supporters of the project said no hearing was required because the property did not need a zoning change.

       But Council Members William L. Kindel, a Republican, and Daniel J. Ward, a Democrat, both voted against the plan and agreed with Richmond's criticism.

       "You are seeing, for the first time, a very drastic change, . . . and folks on the street don't know what they are getting," Kindel said.

       Kindel also questioned the deal itself, noting that while Cerio would be paying the town $3,000 a month for utility and maintenance costs for the next year, the town's costs are actually $11,000 a month.

       He added that the town and the state spent $5 million to acquire the motherhouse and 80 acres of surrounding property that is now Amherst State Park.

       Rather than selling the motherhouse for $400,000, Kindel said, the town should hold on to the property and find a townwide use for the building.

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