Apartments rising at the end of a quiet, dead-end street like Linwood Avenue in Amherst didn’t go over well with the homeowners.
But unlike many of these battles over suburban development, it was the residents who won. Amherst officials listened to what they had to say and in December squashed plans for 55 apartments on more than four acres abutting Linwood, off Main Street just outside the Village of Williamsville.
That’s why it was a bit odd when the residents of Linwood came back to the town last month with a request: Please, reconsider the project.
In fact, the neighborhood has now circulated a petition in support of the plan.
The developer, Andrew Romanowski, needs the vacant, wooded property rezoned by the Town of Amherst to build a total of 55 apartments on land south of Linwood, between South Forest and South Union roads.
But on Dec. 16, the Town Board denied the rezoning – actually reversing its decision from earlier in its meeting – after getting the distinct impression that’s what Linwood residents wanted.
It forced the developer to move ahead with a revised plan – 31 apartments – that would not need rezoning, but require extending Linwood with a cul-de-sac.
Extending Linwood, though, would destroy the character of the dead-end residential street and make the alternative plan the less appealing option of the two, explained Donald Montalto, of the Linwood Avenue Residents Association.
The developer’s attorney warned residents about this scenario, but Montalto admits they didn’t believe him until they heard it for themselves from the town’s Building Department.
By then, it was too late – the board had already acted.
“I actually had to call the developer and apologize,” Montalto said. “I just thought we had the wool pulled over our eyes again. It turns out, he was being honest.”
Montalto partly blames himself for not doing his homework, but he also feels the residents were led to believe both of the developer’s proposals could be avoided.
After the rezoning was denied in December, Council Member Mark A. Manna suggested the town could take it another step and “down-zone” the property to allow only for single-family homes.
That raised the hopes of the neighborhood.
Manna introduced the idea last month, but smelling a lawsuit, the board shot down the resolution by a 3-2 vote.
“They said from the beginning they wanted single-family homes,” Manna said of the neighbors, “so I put forward a resolution for single-family homes – which is what it should be.”
“It was a pipe dream,” Montalto said. “The whole thing was never going to happen.”
Now, both proposals – the 55-unit plan now favored by the residents, as well as the revised option for 31 units – are in play.
Despite the change of heart from the neighbors, the Town Board by law has to wait a year before voting on the same rezoning unless the Planning Board decides the project has changed substantially, officials explained.
The Planning Board could rule on that as soon as Thursday.
“Our position is that there’s substantial change, No. 1 being the neighbors now support it,” said Sean W. Hopkins, the developer’s attorney.
“During this entire lengthy process, my client has done nothing but work cooperatively with the goal of reaching a consensus with the neighbors relative to the project,” Hopkins said.
If it is decided another rezoning vote can be held soon and not a year from now, then the developer would withdraw the alternative plan, Hopkins said.
But, Hopkins said, if the developer has to wait a year to get a vote on the preferred project, then he’s more likely to proceed with the revised proposal.