Debate over the proposed Hyatt Place hotel dominated the Amherst Town Board on Monday, with board members, residents and the developer all exchanging verbal blows as the controversial project moved ahead.
Just hours after Iskalo Development accused Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein and his challenger, Council Member Mark A. Manna, of turning the $15 million hotel into a political football, both lawmakers took political pot shots at each other during a heated exchange.
Democrat Manna demanded a resignation of the two top Zoning Board officials who green-lighted the hotel, pointing out they both happened to be high-ranking members of the town Republican Party appointed by Weinstein.
Weinstein, not to be outdone, then told Manna that Carl Balmas, the embattled Zoning Board official and Republican Party head, had already submitted his resignation.
“But I’m not going to let you take credit for it,” Weinstein said.
That exchange perhaps illustrated the point of Iskalo Executive Vice President David Chiazza, who in his letter to the Town Board wrote that “Wimbledon is not the only tennis match being played these days as the candidates for Town Supervisor have also been exchanging volleys.”
Chiazza went on to say that both candidates – who are now pushing against the six-story hotel being built near Interstate 290 – initially supported the project.
“Of course, this all changed once the project became political,” Chiazza wrote.
Politics aside, the project has been rolling ahead in recent days as bulldozers began clearing land for the hotel’s foundation.
But that could change with the announcement Monday by attorney Richard Berger that his clients – the homeowners challenging the project – will go to court in the coming days to seek an injunction to stop construction.
It’s also unclear whether the town’s new legal challenge to the project – announced Friday and approved by the board Monday – could pose a new hurdle to the hotly contested project.
Residents – who turned out in large numbers and in their customary red outfits – are supportive of the new legal challenge announced by Weinstein but say it will have “zero effect” absent more aggressive measures.
Manna, meanwhile, sought to put more blame on Weinstein for not coming out sooner against the Hyatt project and another six-story hotel on Main Street.
“If this wasn’t an election year, these residents would be staring at a six-story hotel, like the residents on Main Street,” Manna said.
Weinstein countered that Manna could have stopped the Hyatt project by urging his fellow Democrats to vote against tax breaks when it came before the Amherst Industrial Development Agency, as Weinstein did.
The debate came to a bizarre end when Weinstein referenced two anonymous Internet commenters who said they stood behind Manna when he supported the Main Street hotel.
“You really are desperate now, aren’t you?” Manna asked Weinstein. “Two anonymous bloggers on the Internet?”
“I am really desperate,” Weinstein said, adding later that he was drawn into the political debate by Manna.