It turns out the twisting, turning saga of the Westwood Country Club had one more twist in it after all.
Eleven months ago, Town of Amherst officials proposed buying the former golf course in a straightforward transaction that avoided the complicated land swaps at the center of previous negotiations.
They would complete the purchase after the private owners, Mensch Capital Partners, had cleaned toxins from the site, constructed an arts center and reshaped the site into a park.
Last week, however, the Town Board agreed to pay $7.75 million for the property in its current condition.
Amherst, not the developers, will lead the cleanup, guide the site’s transformation into a park and oversee construction of recreational and cultural venues.
It’s the latest shift in the plans for reusing the massive, 171-acre site in the heart of Amherst, a project that has sparked fierce debate for a decade.
Some residents remain sharply critical, arguing that Amherst is paying too much for the property, while others say they still wonder whether the deal will benefit town taxpayers.
“My question is who’s going to be responsible for the brownfield cleanup? And why are we purchasing this property ‘as is?’ ” Jane Cox, who lives on Harlem Road, asked at Monday’s Town Board meeting.
Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa said buying Westwood in its current state, a decision made following “a lengthy process,” allows the town to better control how the site is remade.
“After initially considering commissioning a park, in which the town would purchase the finished product, the town decided to buy a blank canvas and create the park over time to fit the town’s needs,” Kulpa wrote in the Amherst Bee.
Twists and turns
Westwood’s fate has remained uncertain since 2012, when the Mensch investors purchased the site at North Forest Road and Sheridan Drive for $2.5 million.
The partners initially proposed housing for 1,700 people along with retail and commercial elements.
Critics packed public meetings to say the ambitious project would overwhelm the neighborhood’s roads and sewer system. The plan stalled and the dispute went to court before cooling off.
Kulpa in 2018 unveiled a vision for a destination “Amherst Central Park,” including Westwood and the adjoining Audubon Golf Course and Northtown Center rink complex.
By January 2019, the town and Mensch had largely agreed to shift nearly all the development off Westwood and closer to the Northtown Center.
Two years later, the parties struck a tentative deal to swap the 171-acre Westwood site for 38 acres of town land that included three holes at Audubon and a swath of softball diamonds.
The town offered $45,000 per acre for the land at Westwood and Mensch offered $221,000 per acre for the town property.
Total cost of preparing the land for development and construction could have reached $300 million.
But by late 2021, Kulpa and Dan Hamister – who replaced his father as Mensch’s managing partner following Mark Hamister’s death last year – had agreed to a streamlined sale of the site.
The deal required Mensch to clean Westwood of residue from pesticides and other chemicals used to treat the course. Mensch then would develop the park, creating walking and biking paths among other changes; renovate the existing clubhouse; and build a new arts and cultural center for MusicalFare Theatre.
The town would retain 30 or so acres it had proposed swapping, meaning less upheaval for golfers and softball players but no development opportunity for Mensch there.
This didn’t affect the $63 million UBMD medical building under construction at 500 Maple Road. The group behind this project paid $3 million for 15 acres of town athletic fields and parkland, requiring Amherst to spend millions more on replacement fields.
Kulpa told The News the town likely would pay $30 million to $40 million for the finished-product park, a cost partially offset by grants and MusicalFare lease payments.
Town taking control
Recently, however, the town’s thinking shifted, Kulpa said Monday night.