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Redevelopment, road safety and greenspace highlight Amherst State of the Town address

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

At a gathering hosted and sponsored by the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, Amherst Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa delivered an annual State of the Town address which focused on bringing new life to a former box strip business plaza, saving lives by introducing a more coordinated traffic stoplight systen for busy intersections and replacing the numerous trees removed amid development projects.

After the formal installation of officers for the hosts, Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer A.J. Baynes introduced Kulpa, who began with discussion of economic development projects including the former Northtown Plaza on Sheridan Drive, now known as Station 12.

A formal groundbreaking was held at the site the previous November. Following his formal remarks, Kulpa told reporters he's satisfied with that project's progress.

"I'm very happy with where they're at," he said. "They've got a good jump on foundations and concrete. They've got a timetable to try to be opening shops in 2021, so it's going to be a big year of construction. Our permitting groups have said that the architects and engineers have been excellent to work with, so we're optimistic that they're going to hit their timetables."

Kulpa also discussed other projects including the future of the Boulevard Mall space. He also touched on traffic safety along the Boulevard, and other town thoroughfares. The section of Niagara Falls Boulevard just north of Route 290 has seen numerous fatalities involving cars and pedestrians in recent years. Kulpa says he'd like to work with New York State to implement additional safety measures, and even slow down the speed limit in that stretch.

He also told the audience of plans to invest in upgrades for traffic lights at intersections to improve their coordination and improve traffic flow.

"Getting to smart grids, and building technology integrations with our signals so we're stepping out of the 60s and 70s and into the 2020s, that's huge," Kulpa said following his presentation. "It's a big commitment from the town. We'll spend a million dollars over the next couple years on the project, but ultimately it will pay for itself in years to come."

Kulpa drew applause when speaking of creating a central Amherst park that would become a permanent home to Musicalfare. He also lamented the removal of greenspace, specifically trees, as a means for development and explained what he calls the Million Trees Initiative. It's a program that will encourage future development to keep the number of existing trees in place and add up to 29 more.

Kulpa explained that he chose the number one million because it breaks down to 29 trees per acre.

"We launched it at Daemen (College). We basically said within our zoning, we can change the way development approaches trees," he said. "We say we want your development to be tree-neutral. If you can't add 29 trees per acre, then we'll collect that in terms of a mediation cost. We'll put that into a dedicated tree fund and we'll use that to offset the cost of planting trees."

The lunch event began with Baynes calling for a moment of silence in memory of local businessmen and developers Michael Capriotto and Mark Croce, as well as Lois Weinstein, wife of former longtime elected official Dr. Barry Weinstein and the director of the Holocaust Resource Center. Weinstein's funeral was held Friday morning, Baynes explained.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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