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Buffalo News,   February 9, 1998    Editorial Page

      Amherst faces the pleasant challenge of expanding its scarce park lands. Since the opportunity to do that exists, the only questions involve the wit and will of town officials to capitalize on this opportunity.

       It is reassuring that support is growing among Town Board members to buy land from the Sisters of St. Francis in the Village of Williamsville for what would become the town's largest park

       The order owns 100 acres of lovely park-like property on Mill Street near Reist. Those acres make up an elegant sprawl of open space mixed with creek and pond, bridges and woods nestled in a built-up residential area.

       The land was donated to the Sisters of St. Francis nearly a century ago. While they want to sell much of the property, they will retain a portion and construct a new home on it for their order.

       The situation offers an irresistible opportunity that the town should not resist. Everyone would benefit, and for many years to come.

       These are not short-term advantages. As a town park, the land would support and enhance property values of the nearby residences, both improving this residential quality of life and undergirding town and village tax bases. Since a part of the Sisters of St. Francis property abuts the existing Glen Park, with its popular waterfall and wooded slopes, town acquisition of the property would enable people to stroll along wooded trails from Main Street north all the way to a point near Sheridan Drive.

       This same property could be, of course, valuable to commercial developers as well, and at least one has expressed interest in it. But a park would be more compatible with its historic use by the order. Commercial intrusions could violate that. As park land, too, it would enhance rather than detract from the quiet setting the Sisters of St. Francis foresee for the portion of the property they will retain for themselves.

       "It's win-win for both parties," says Council Member James Hayes. "It is in their best interest and in the town's best interest."

       Hayes has begun circulating a timely proposed resolution that would direct Town Attorney Phillip A. Thielman to start negotiations to acquire the property at a price not to exceed $5 million and provided the town can obtain half the required revenues from outside sources.

       Other things being equal, a $4 million expenditure would boost the town tax rate by 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Tapping outside sources would soften objections over higher taxes.

       Amherst ought to explore all possible sources of revenue. Meantime, however, it can and should commence negotiating with the Sisters of St. Francis for an acquisition that accommodates the needs of both parties. Nothing will be gained by waiting, but waiting could risk the loss of this opportunity.

       The Hayes resolution, scheduled to come before the Town Board on Feb. 23, won the quick endorsement of Council Member Jane Woodward. Supervisor Susan Grelick and Council Member Peggy Santillo, both Democrats, have long pressed for this acquisition. Since Hayes and Woodward are Republicans, support is not only growing but is hearteningly bipartisan.

       The board will be meeting with state parks and historic preservation officials today. All, hopefully, will recognize this as a wise investment in parks and open space in a built-up residential suburb. It's an investment to strengthen guarantees of a fine quality of life for town and village residents, including the Sisters of St. Francis, for years to come.

       All in all, this is an uncommon opportunity for the town to gain a jewel

       BILL WIPPERT/Buffalo News

     The Town of Amherst can create a win-win situation by buying this Williamsville land from the Sisters of St. Francis for a new park.

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