Town supervisor race in Amherst likely to focus on quality of life issues

Amherst Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger, the Republican candidate for Supervisor, has the Conservative line and name recognition as a town wide elected official — with an unblemished record.  It’s hard to make enemies as the Town Clerk.

Village of Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa, the Democrat running for Supervisor, will probably land the support of the Working Families line, though he is unlikely to secure the Independence Party’s ballot line.

There are divisions within the Democratic party which may play out as election day nears, but most observers expect that it will hinge on quality of life issues in the Town, which has been the region’s largest and fastest growing suburb for the last three decades.

“Kulpa has shown himself to be an uber development type in his small village stage. I think of him as another Jack Sharpe. He is an architect by trade and his development ideas will undoubtedly clash with locals who see over-development as the town’s continuing biggest problem,” explains a former Amherst elected official.

“I always saw Amherst as a suburb and campaigned successfully on that view. Those who see the town as ‘Little Buffalo’ or ‘Buffalo Lite,’ do so at their peril,” he adds.

Catholic Health has been planning to relocate its methadone treatment center within the Town.  Jaeger wants the clinic to expand at its current site in Northtown Plaza.  But that property has been trying to lure higher quality retail tenants, and a Whole Foods is currently under construction.

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Amherst Town Clerk Marjory Jaeger (pictured on the far right), with Assemblymen Michael Kearns and Ray Walters.

The new outpatient treatment center is to be located at 910 Millersport Highway, on the corner of North Ivyhurst Road. The center will distribute medications including methadone and suboxone.

Jaeger says treatment centers are necessary in the town. She explained that as a volunteer with the Williamsville Fire Department, she has participated in calls involving drug overdoses. But she takes issue with the Millersport location for the clinic.

“Some of the concerns that have been voiced are safety and security issues,” said Jaeger, standing outside the closed former auto parts store building at 910 Millersport Highway told NPR-WBFO 88.7 FM last month. “As a matter of fact, we had a treatment clinic that was located in Northtown Plaza in the Town of Amherst. The Amherst Police had several ongoing investigations.”

Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein is term limited this year, but verified that police had problems outside the former clinic in Northtown Plaza. When asked about an alternative location, he suggested Catholic Health instead expand at their current site.

“I don’t know why they’re planning on moving. They could enlarge the treatment capacity of their site and keep it there,” Weinstein said. “No one has been fighting with them over that site.”

But that position has been seen by many residents of Amherst’s older, less affluent Northtown Plaza and Eggertsville neighborhoods, as an elitist insult.

“The heroin epidemic is among the children of wealthy White folks from Williamsville and East Amherst, not working class people in West Amherst,” explains one Eggertsville resident.  “The people overdosing are rich kids. This is their drug problem, but we have to have this clinic in our backyard because of elitist Williamsville sensibilities.”

“They need to admit they have a problem and treat these kids in their own neighborhoods,” she adds. “The clinic should be located on Klein and Hopkins.”

Residents of the neighborhood worry about needles, drug dealers, and a high risk population prone to theft.  Many residents want to see these clinics banned from residential and commercial zones altogether — allowed only in industrial parks like the Audubon Commerce Park, or along Wherle Road.

“This is a neighborhood with two parks that are less than a quarter-mile away,” Jaeger told NPR. “We want to see Catholic Health be good neighbors and offer the residents some explanation, some meetings and hopefully change the location.”

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Some cities are providing heroin users with safe, assisted injection sites to prevent overdoses.

Are Jaeger and Kulpa ignoring other quality of life issues?

The Boulevard Inn at 785 Niagara Falls Boulevard has become a hot bed of prostitution and crime. Recent arrests at the motel have neighbors calling on the Town of Amherst to shut down the establishment. In the last year there have been arrests of drug dealers, pimps, and criminals on the run.

Just last month a Buffalo man was charged with running a sex trafficking operation out of the motel, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s office. Derek Harris, 22, allegedly ran the operation involving several victims, some as young as 14, using the website Backpage.com.

Harris faces the charges of sex trafficking, first-degree criminal sex act, first-degree promoting prostitution and second-degree promoting prostitution. He has pleaded not guilty and his bail is set at $150,000. He faces up to 50 years behind bars if convicted.

Jayesh Patel acquired the 22-room motel in late 2014, paying $600,000 for the property through JAI Bhole Inc.  At the same time he purchased University Motor Inn, a 37 room motel on Main Street across from the University at Buffalo, for $1.67 million through another entity, JAI Gurudev Inc.

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Supervisor candidate Brian Kulpa has not taken a position on the nuisance property.

At the time he said that the properties would be run better.

But neighbors and nearby business owners say that Patel changed the fee structure of the motel, allowing people to pay by the week rather than the night.  That change has attracted a criminal element to the quiet neighborhood, located about a mile north of Kenmore Avenue.

Patel now owns nearly 30 hotels and motels, many of them outside the Buffalo Niagara region. He also owns the Hampton Inn in Niagara Falls, opened in 2014 and a Holiday Inn Express on Anderson Road in Cheektowaga near the Walden Galleria.

Patel is currently renovating the former Dunlop Tire headquarters on Grand Island, with the generous help of Empire State Development.

With the issue of human trafficking so prominent in the national discourse, the issue is likely to be at the crux of the Supervisor’s race. Neither candidate has yet offered public comment about the nuisance property, or whether they will shut down the establishment if elected.

In 2015, Patel contributed $500 to the campaign of Guy Marlette, the former Republican Town Councilman and candidate for County Legislature.  Observers will be watching the campaign accounts of Kulpa and Jaeger carefully.

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