Amherst Fast-tracks $15 Million Luxury Apartment-hotel-retail Project

By Sandra Tan

A $15 million luxury apartment-hotel-retail project — the first of its kind in the region — was fast-tracked by the Amherst Town Board on Monday night. The 4.6-acre development will feature a 105-room Staybridge Suites hotel and two other buildings with first-floor retail and 42 luxury apartments.

The development, dubbed “University Place,” would be located just west of the University at Buffalo, between Sweet Home and Rensch roads, next door to the 600-bed Villas at Rensch student housing development under construction for opening this fall.

If all goes as planned, the mixed-use project would be completed by summer 2013, said project developers. Faced with no objections from neighboring property owners, the board unanimously approved rezoning for the project Monday and waived its usually one-meeting waiting period.

Assuming no unanticipated road blocks, University Place will be the first mixed-use project of its kind to gain traction since the spectacularfailure of the gun club project on Maple Road.

Like that project, this one is expected to take advantage of its proximity to the the UB campus, which is a 5- to 10-minute walk from the site.

Aside from the six-story hotel anchoring the west end of the site, two other four-story buildings comprising a total of 20,540 square feet would feature first-floor restaurant and retail space, with luxury apartments on the upper floors.

“The target market for these 42 apartments is young professionals, faculty and staff at UB,” said lawyer, Sean Hopkins, who represented Ellicott Development Co. and Bevilacqua Development on this project. “We are very confident there is ample demand already in place for those units.”

The apartments would each be 1,400 to 1,550 square feet, featuring two bedrooms and two baths, and rent for $1,550 to $1,850 per month, Hopkins said. These apartments and the first-floor retail and restaurant tenants would be constructed by Bevilacqua Development. Bevilacqua was also responsible for the development of the “Commons on North French.”

The Staybridge hotel would be developed and owned by Ellicott Development. Ellicott Development has put forward other hotel projects in the area, including one at Main Street and South Forest Road in Williamsville.

Both William Paladino of Ellicott Development Co. and Jonathan Bevilacqua of Bevilacqua Development expressed enthusiasm for the project Monday night after the board approved the rezoning request that redesignates the 4-acre parcel from “research and development” to “general business.”

“I think it’s something you’re going to be seeing a lot more of in the town,” Paladino said.

Hopkins said the developers will likely seek tax breaks for the project, though they still anticipate the development to generate substantial property tax income for the town.

Board members expressed no dissent for the project and they thought it a good fit for the area. Their willingness to vote on the project Monday evening appeared to be a reflection of the fact that there was no expressed community dissent and the fact that the Planning Board unanimously recommended rezoning approval on Feb. 16.

“It’s not dissimilar from the gun club project, but it’s on a much smaller scale,” said Supervisor Barry Weinstein. “It makes sense to develop that area.”

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