AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — A small vacant lot that has led to controversy between the Town of Amherst and a prominent downstate businessman is coming to life. The lot is being transformed into a “Pocket Park” and leaders in Amherst are calling it a Gateway.
Town officials are calling it “Gateway Park” because as you pass through it takes you onto one of the busiest commercial strips in Western New York. They also consider it a buffer where car, bike, and bus traffic all come together.
For years, when cars were king, a Red Apple gas station prospered at the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Kenmore Avenue where Amherst, Buffalo, and the Town of Tonawanda come together. But in the 1990s business fell off and the owner, United Refining of Warren, Pennsylvania, closed the station where it sat vacant for more than 20 years.
A few years ago, the building was razed and large cement blocks protected the property.
“The people who used to be standing along the long jersey barriers or concrete blocks, they will now have appropriate waiting areas and hopefully get them out of that cold and out of the elements,” said Amherst Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa.
Town officials and neighbors decided something had to be done, so the town made an offer for the property United Refining’s CEO, John Catsimatidis, a prominent New York City businessman, countered the property was worth about a quarter-million dollars.
“It is not about money, because I am going to give the money to charity,” Catsimatidis said. “It is about if they can do it to a person like me they can do it to any taxpayer.”
The town took United Refining to court using a legal maneuver known as “eminent domain,” and prevailed. Now plans call for a pocket park, featuring a bus stop, bringing in a farmers market, and lots of green space.
“It is indicative of a neighborhood, indicative of a major intersection with two major corridors,” Kulpa said. “We are going to turn it into the heart of the community, instead of it being an eyesore.”
While the town is proceeding with Gateway Park, the shouting is not quite over yet. Catsimatidis has appealed the court ruling and lost, but he still has a few months to decide if he wants to accept the town’s offer.
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