Please use the navigation menu at bottom the Page       





                                                                                                                                                             St Mary of the Angels     Reist Mill     Historic Maps & Photos


History of Amherst State Park News Archives


Buffalo News,   February 7, 1998  by Susan Schulman

      The Town of Amherst, known more for office parks than parkland, is suddenly scrambling to acquire a 100-acre tract to turn into the town's only major park.

       Just a week after Town Board members decided to take a wait-and-see approach on purchasing the land, a majority is now moving in the opposite direction, trying to buy the property before an interested developer does so

       "It seems that because of the developer's entrance, there seemed to be more urgency to move forward," Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said.

       The town's prospects look good.

       The Sisters of St. Francis, which owns the tract just north of the Village of Williamsville, has indicated it prefers to sell its property to the town for $5 million rather than to a private developer, town officials say, even though one has reportedly offered $7 million for the land.

       The town hopes it can buy the land without raising taxes, a requirement in the minds of some elected officials, given growing concern among Amherst voters about property taxes.

       The current plan is to pay up to $5 million for the property, with the cost possibly split between the town and state.

       Amherst might borrow to pay its share but structure the debt so that the repayment costs would come due only after the debt costs on current projects are paid off.

       The town has been talking with state officials and is optimistic that state money is available for park acquisition, Ms. Grelick said. Town and state officials are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the project.

       Amherst is the most populous of Buffalo's suburbs, and while it has numerous ball fields, neighborhood parks, an extensive jogging trail and nature preserves, it does not have a major recreation park.

       After the Sisters of St. Francis made it known months ago that their property would be for sale, Williamsville residents have pressured the town to purchase the land for a park rather than allow a developer to acquire it for houses or commercial tracts.

       "The last thing Amherst needs is more condos," said Eileen Torre, a resident who collected more than 3,000 signatures on a petition urging the town to buy the land.

       Just last week, Ms. Grelick and Council Member Peggy Santillo tried convincing their colleagues to sign a resolution asking the state for help with a possible purchase.

       But a majority of the board members had reservations, fearing the town was moving too fast without enough information. Some wanted the land appraised first. Others wanted to see a feasibility study on what can be done with a sprawling four-story St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse built on the property in 1927.

       But then First Amherst Development Group confirmed this week that it is interested in the property.

       Although the company did not identify specific plans for the property, First Amherst typically develops retail and office space. The company already has 150,000 square feet of office space in Williamsville.

       First Amherst said it did not make a formal offer for the land, and a real estate broker for the sisters said the order has not set an asking price.

       Ms. Grelick, however, has received a memo from the town attorney saying a private developer has offered $7 million for the property.

       A day after First Amherst confirmed its interest, Council Member James P. Hayes submitted a resolution calling on the town attorney to begin negotiating with the Sisters of St. Francis for the property. The resolution caps the purchase price at $5 million and makes the purchase contingent on the state or private sources providing half the money.

       Hayes wants town officials to consider using federal grants and town surplus funds and increasing open space and recreation fees when putting together a purchase offer.

       As of late Friday, four of the seven board members had signed the resolution: Hayes, Ms. Grelick, Mrs. Santillo and Jane Woodward.

       With the four votes, the Town Board is expected to approve the resolution at its Feb. 23 meeting. However, five votes will be needed to approve a bond issue to cover the town's share of the purchase price.

       Council Member Daniel Ward said he still has some questions about the project, including the land assessment and how much the town should pay. Ward also wants to make sure the town is committed to spending more of its resources in Eggertsville and does not concentrate just on Williamsville and the newer sections of town.

       Still, Ward said he supports the park purchase in principle and believes it will be approved.

       "It is something I would agree with, but in fairness, they have to take care of all parts of the town," he said.

       Council Member Michael McGuire could not be reached to comment, but he has previously cautioned the board against saddling the town with an old, sprawling motherhouse whose upkeep could drain town funds.

       Council Member William Kindel also is focused on costs beyond the purchase price and remains opposed to the project. He said he would prefer that a developer buy the land and donate 10 acres around Ellicott Creek to complement nearby Glen Park.

       Some of the concerns are being addressed, Ms. Grelick said. Others are not.

       The supervisor said she talked to the town's financial advisers Friday.

       She said she is optimistic about getting state money but added that the town also might have to seek private funds for the purchase. Such a move might require first establishing a parks conservancy separate from town government to raise money.

       Ms. Grelick said she doesn't think there's time for the town to pay for its own independent appraisal of the property but is instead trying to obtain a copy of an appraisal already conducted for the Sisters of St. Francis. The town assessor would then review that appraisal, she said.

       She added that the town needs a feasibility study to determine what can be done with the motherhouse. The Town Board is expected to vote Feb. 23 on a resolution authorizing such a study.

       If the town purchases the land, Ms. Grelick said, public meetings would be held to determine what activities and facilities the public would like on the land.

       Patrick Lakamp of the News Northtowns Bureau contributed to this report.

Back to History News Archives pagehnews.html