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Iskalo Hyatt: Amherst Has Gone Too Far

The Town of Amherst has allowed the pendulum to swing too far.

Now is the time for the residents of Amherst to bring it back into balance. Developers have built too many bad projects in too many good places for far too long.

Healthy communities are a combination of good schools, great neighborhoods, safe streets, and convenient shopping. The most vibrant commercial strips in the region exist in areas where the surrounding residential streets are solid, like the Village of Williamsville and Elmwood Avenue. Busy, bustling, commercial areas and desirable housing, peacefully coexisting.

But make no mistake, commercial development follows residential, not the reverse. Look at downtown Buffalo. It’s a ghost town on the commercial side, but as the repopulation of the city core continues, the commercial will follow.

Amherst has a pro developer reputation, and regardless of site suitability, the decks are cleared to fast track them all. The Town Board sits mum. The Zoning board hands out variances like candy on Halloween and the taxpayers have the three minute “times up and sit down” bell rung during their comments at Town Board meetings.

There are two bad projects planned in two neighborhoods. In Buffalo and Amherst. Both are hotels.

The Iskalo Hyatt in Amherst is somewhat alive due to the strong-arm tactics of the developer, muscling through the town approval process. The Town Board paved the way for the project behind the scenes in the year before it was made public, which, in turn, allowed the approvals required to be made in the open, to be dispensed with expeditiously. This pattern of behavior has been effectively mastered by the Town Board and greases the wheels for developers, stacking the deck in their favor, all outside the public eye. It suppresses the ability of the community to organize as the time for public review is substantially compressed. Any responsible public official would have told Iskalo that the Hyatt is ill-suited for his parcel and is blatantly inconsistent with the plain language of every plan approved by the town since the 1990s.

The Mark Chason hotel on the Elmwood strip, after the demolition of those “oh so Elmwood” Victorians across from Cole’s, is just as egregious as the Iskalo Hyatt. The downsides of both hotels are the same. Wrong place, out of scale, site restrictions, use is too intensive and too close to residential, will devalue the abutting housing, exacerbate already congested streets and change the character of the area for generations.

Great neighborhoods and people attract commercial developers. But ill-suited, incongruous, and out-of-scale commercial development is the deathblow to even the most stable community. If our elected leaders and the boards they appoint are unwilling to perform their duties in the public interest and for the benefit of the community as a whole, they should be replaced.

It’s time to reset the pendulum.

- Michele Marconi, Amherst

Marconi is a member of Friends of Mike’s Pond.

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