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Gun club proposal in the cross hairs

   Amherst town council members are touchy when it comes to Benderson Development's Amherst Town Centre project, and Benderson executives are learning the hard way just what that means.

   Benderson submitted site plans for Planning Board consideration last month that included a 2,000-seat movie theater and four-level parking garage without consulting the Town Board beforehand.

   In response, Supervisor Satish Mohan and Deputy Supervisor Shelly Schratz - both of whom had reluctantly voted in favor of the project in June - said they now want to rezone the entire property to a less-commercial designation. They join ranks with three other council members who have been opposed to the project from the start.

   Opponents say Benderson's actions broke any sense of common purpose and goodwill that may have existed with board members.

   "I never say "I told you so,' and I don't like people who do, but I told you so," said Council Member Mark Manna. "I knew something like this was going to happen. General business is the entirely wrong rezoning for that parcel of land."

   Proponents of the project, however, say all this amounts to an emotional overreaction that's unwarranted. Deed restrictions for the property do not preclude a movie theater. Even so, the developer pulled its site plans Monday and said everything is up for discussion.

   "Hopefully everybody takes a step back, takes a deep breath, and plans to discuss this like human beings," said Jeffery Palumbo, one of Benderson's lawyers. "We're not trying to push anything down anybody's throat."

   It would take at least nine months for the rezoning process to run its course. In the meantime, Benderson has a number of options - including legal ones - to move its project forward.

   --- Sandra Tan

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