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War of words continues between billionaire & Town of Amherst

Mike Desmond

Billionaire John Catsimatidis stood in the snow of the vacant lot located at Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard Tuesday, saying he still wants to put a gas station and a mini-mart on the site, but Amherst officials want to build a park instead.

The Manhattan resident has owned the lot for years and has not done anything with it, although the town has siezed part of the property by eminent domain to build the park. Contractors have started to demolish the vacant former funeral home next door.

"I'm a taxpayer. At least talk to us about what you plan to do," Catsimatidis said. "But just to take the property, not even having a meeting with us, not even to talk to us, I think that's wrong. If they can do it to me, my company, to you, they can do it to anybody."

He cleaned up the lot after Sen. Charles Schumer came there to complain about a perceived mess. Now, he said the long-range plan is the gas station and mini-mart, and he needs that about-to-be vacant lot for his plan.

Catsimatidis insists the town is interfering with commerce by refusing to sell him the land and will not meet with him to talk.

"I'm a reasonable person. I'm willing to do the right thing," Catsimatidis said. "Town of Amherst has 41 parks. What do you need 42 for? I mean, I'm willing to maybe lease it out $1 a year to them for five years, until we maybe build another gas station a few years from now. I will still pay the taxes. What else can be better than that?"

Catsimatidis owns an oil refinery and hundreds of gas stations and mini-marts under various names.

Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa said he has not heard from the businessman to set up a meeting or make a pitch for the adjacent land, and that gateway to the town community needs a park, even a small one.

"All some people have done is put together some loose remarks and comments about, 'Hey, we'll buy from you and put a gas station there' or something along those lines," Kulpa said. "It isn't like I have seen a serious offer. Yeah, we want to build a 42nd park because we're trying to take what is a gateway to a neighborhood and turn it into something viable and some great public use where it sat vacant all these years."

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