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Amherst Comes Up Short

Too little. Too late.

At this time last summer, the frenzy about the Iskalo Hyatt was peaking.

Amherst staff and officials worked on the Hyatt for 18 months, in secret, and sprung it on the community with 5 days notice. The Town’s boards held the minimum number of meetings required and promptly, oftentimes without discussion, gaveled approval of every Iskalo request, blind to the facts and deaf to the hundreds of neighbors in opposition. The massive 6+ story hotel, shoehorned into an undersized irregularly shaped site with 15 inches of Main Street frontage, was muscled through by Iskalo and rubber stamped by the Town Board, Planning Board and given nine variances from the Zoning Board. The building permit was issued. It was a done deal.

The Town Board failed to take any action to downsize or change this mega sized incongruous hotel. They sat mute during the public brouhaha, their collective efforts in paving the way for the Iskalo Hyatt only apparent after the fact. Their only voices were to cast blame on other town committees. They did however agree to study what the appropriate building height might be and how future commercial buildings should be sited next to housing.

The Town’s “height committee’ has been meeting for a year. No public notices. No minutes. No documents in the public domain except for the original resolution calling for the study. The front man for the review is Supervisor wannabe Gay Marlette inserted ahead of Mark Manna, who championed the review in the first place. But their secret discussions just became public. This week a resolution was passed, aptly titled “Protecting Residential Properties” and it proposes to change the set back requirement for commercial buildings, like the distance a hotel can be from housing.

The proposed rules, a substantial change, is a combination of a “no build buffer” of 30 feet and tripling (from current one foot to 3 feet) the set back requirement based on the height of the building. The Iskalo Hyatt is set back 65 feet. The new rule would have required a 225 foot set back. A set back of 66 feet would have pushed the Iskalo Hyatt off the parcel.

And the project would have died. Or at least been smaller.

So thanks, Town Board. But you are a year late in doing your job.

It’s too little. Too late.

> Michele F. Marconi, Amherst

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