The proposal to build a sprawling $238 million mixed-use “neighborhood” at the struggling Westwood Country Club in Amherst faces at least a year of scrutiny before any construction could begin.
The vast plan unveiled Thursday calls for developing a 170-acre parcel in the heart of a town that has seen citizens organize and protest much smaller projects.
Put forth by Mensch Capital Partners LLC, the investor group that purchased the country club two years ago, the plan envisions a variety of housing for 1,700 people, storefronts, offices, a hotel and parkland.
“The scale and sizing of all this is really neighborhood-oriented,” said Mensch managing partner Andrew J. Shaevel. “This is not a regional destination. It’s a neighborhood.”
Mensch formally submitted its redevelopment plan to town officials, seeking to have the entire property rezoned to permit the project to move forward.
That request – just three days after the town completed rezoning the parcel from “community facility” to “recreation” – will initiate a review process with multiple public meetings and hearings by the Amherst Planning Board and Town Board, as well as neighborhood forums that could lead to changes. The application, contained in a 3-inch-thick binder, also included a draft environmental impact statement.
If completed, the project will stretch the entire length of the property from Maple Road to Sheridan Drive. The northern half would be dominated by residential developments, and the retail shops, offices, hotel and parking closer to Sheridan. Full development would likely take seven to 10 years, depending on demand and how many other partners Mensch can bring in.
Critics are already speaking up, including neighbors who have derailed at least one other major proposal on Maple Road when Benderson Development Co. sought to redevelop nearby gun club property. A spokeswoman for that group expressed opposition to the Mensch plan Thursday, calling it too dense and citing the loss of green space.
“This is massive, even for that many acres,” said Judy Ferarro, spokeswoman for the Fairways Group, a homeowners association. “They are cramming so much into a small area. I can’t see any good coming out of it.”
Town officials did not get a chance to look over the proposal Thursday and were reluctant to discuss the specifics of it. “I’m going to have to read it,” Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said, noting that this is the first plan the town has received under the new rezoning classification.
Mensch – which also includes Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. CEO Paul F. Ciminelli, Priam Enterprises LLC’s Paul J. Kolkmeyer and Mark E. Hamister of hospitality firm Hamister Group – bought the Westwood from its member-owners in 2012, paying $2.5 million and averting a likely bankruptcy and shutdown of the facility. Founded in 1945, the club had been losing money and accumulating debt for over 10 years as its membership fell.
The new owners stabilized it, but Shaevel said the golf course has kept losing money. “This golf course hasn’t been economically viable in the past, and it is not economically viable today. So the question of the status quo operation of this course is really not a question,” he said.
Speculation has centered on the likelihood of the new owners to redevelop the property, but Mensch committed to maintaining the club operations, including the golf course, for at least two years, while it negotiated unsuccessfully with the town to swap Westwood for the town-owned Audubon Golf Course closer to UB. When that effort failed, Mensch extended its contract with the club operators for another year, through this current season, while it developed its plan. The current clubhouse would remain intact as a catering and banquet facility, with the addition of a 1.2 acres of green “event space” in back of it to host concerts, parties or other activities.
Plans call for construction of a new divided and landscaped boulevard called Westwood Parkway that would wind through the property from Maple to Sheridan, with side roads linking up to the various elements, and a circle to keep traffic calm. An additional entrance from Sheridan would also be created into the neighborhood center area. But the current entrance off North Forest would be closed off and sealed, with only a walking path in its place.
“The intent is to create a very neighborhood-type feel,” Shaevel said, comparing it to parkways in Snyder and Eggertsville. “This isn’t a thoroughfare like Youngs Road. This is a neighborhood street that will run through this neighborhood.”
About 38 percent of the site, or 64 acres, would consist of the park, lakes and ponds, with 2 miles of pedestrian and bicycle trails. Westwood Lake, the biggest, would be stocked with fish. The lake would also be used to manage storm water runoff and control the impact on nearby Ellicott Creek.
The developers have also designed 22 acres on the east side of the lake for Westwood Park, with more trails and open access to the land along Ellicott Creek. It’s directly aligned with the town’s par-3 golf course for “continuity” and could either become a town park or be maintained by the Mensch, Shaevel said. And plans call for a parklike promenade along the south side of Westwood Lake.
Starting in the north, the project would feature 108 patio homes on the east side of Westwood Parkway. Those homes – which would range from 1,800 to 2,000 square feet – would be geared to “young and emerging professionals,” empty-nesters and “those that are looking for upscale townhouse condos,” Shaevel said, noting the proximity to UB. Across the parkway would be a complex of 90 condo townhouses, with side streets and access to public space and recreation features. That would also include a lakefront community center and pool.
To the immediate south of the patio homes, Mensch would build 46 single-family homes on larger lots, with about 3,000 square feet of space in each, and a pair of roads cutting through the neighborhood. Across the way would be a senior housing facility, with 200 assisted-living and 96 independent-living units, near the core of the entire project.