UB has no plans to develop, build on 200 acres of university land

Land is home to recreational paths and empty fields, but students want UB to promote it

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A lone sign tells students to enjoy the roughly 200 acres of UB land east of the Millersport Highway. 

The sign asks students to take “the path to a better quality of life throughout the community.” 

But North Campus maps don’t lead students to the path, or the hundreds of acres of land the path travels through. The land — about one-sixth of North Campus — is hardly used by UB.

The land is composed of fields, woodlands, creekside plant life, the Ellicott Creek Trailway path, a 9/11 memorial, a radio tower and a small New York State weather station. Animals such as turkeys and deer graze the grounds daily, but UB barely uses most of the land.

UB said it has no plans to build on the land “in the near or long terms” due to its commitment to ecological sustainability, according to Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of Campus Planning.

Many students don’t know UB owns the roughly 200 acres of land. Students, such as Joey Guastaferro, said they thought UB’s land was separated by its surrounding highways.

“When I see maps, I don’t see that part UB owns. I would definitely want UB to tell me that it’s there because it’d be another place to explore the university,” said Guastaferro, a freshman undecided major. “There’s more nature and bike trails most people don’t know about, so it would have been nice to know.”

Alex Eisenhauer, a master’s student in real estate development, is an Outdoor Pursuits supervisor. Eisenhauer said the land could potentially house a campsite, or an outdoor recreation or education area.

“Those are the main things Outdoor Pursuits can do there now because they’re pretty low cost, low budget things that you can set up,” Eisenhauer said. “Going forward, if UB wants to do something with the land, there are unlimited possibilities.”

An unseen plan

The 200-plus acres are between the Millersport Highway, the Ellicott Creek and the Town of Amherst’s Audubon Golf Course/Town Park. The land is mostly woodlands and empty fields. A portion of the Ellicott Creek trailway, a path used by bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians, circles the land’s border, as well.

UB Spokesperson Kate McKenna said the land doesn’t appear on North Campus maps because “of scale,” and if the “entire boundary of the campus was shown, names of the buildings and used landscape wouldn’t be readable.” There is only one sign near the Ellicott Creek signifying the land is UB property, and McKenna said “there is no need for additional signage” because of the “few roads” on the land.

UB has no plan to build on the land because of the 2010 UB Comprehensive Master Plan, according to Hayes McAlonie. 

Hayes McAlonie said the plan is the “long-term planning strategy for growing and sustaining our three campuses” and the “framework on which [UB] bases all of [its] decisions regarding building and land usage.” She said the plan states the “vast majority” of the land east of the Millersport Highway is “original undeveloped land.”

“The plan recommended that this area remain undisturbed to support the riparian landscape around Ellicott Creek. As such, UB has no plan to build in this area in the near or long terms,” Hayes McAlonie said. 

This riparian landscape (vegetated area between land and water), Hayes McAlonie said, refers to the creek’s “wetland flora,” (plant life) and “fauna” (animal life). She said there is also a “flood plain on [each] side of the creek” and UB is “seeking to ecologically sustain this area.” 

UB’s 2006 Comprehensive Physical Plan, as well, describes a number of “physical limitations” toward building and development on North Campus. 

“Despite its vast areas of unbuilt space, North Campus cannot — and should not — support unlimited development,” the plan states. The plan explains how “much of the campus is off-limits to construction, including officially designated easements around wetlands and waterways.” The plan also reserves a number of UB sites from development to protect waterfront access and natural habitat.

Still, the plan proposes different uses for the land east of the Millersport Highway.

The plan states the land “provides essential expansion space for recreational and mixed-use development supportive of university competitiveness.” Proposed uses include an expansion of the Baird Research Park, and a retirement community.

The plan also proposes a roundabout on the Millersport Highway and a road extension through the land, between North Campus’ Webster Road and North Forest Road. UB also considered a short-term “temporary parking lot” for spaces lost to ongoing construction projects.

Sean Brodfuehrer, UB Facilities' architectural planner, said the plan is “more vague” concerning land east of the Millersport Highway, but the plan will consider development when “specific needs or demand arise.”

“The key to utilizing anything over there is proper and safe access and connectivity to it,” Brodfuehrer wrote in an email. “The road and infrastructure would [need] to be extended first before anything could occur over there. However, investing in extending east for any development would only happen after we have exhausted development sites around the academic core and the existing [Baird Research Park] first.”

UB’s plan describes the land before North Campus’ construction in the 1960s. The land, the plan states, is part of the Great Lakes Floodplain Forest and “little of this ecosystem remains in the highly developed Buffalo Niagara region.” The plan also states campus landscapes are “healthier, more resilient and less expensive to maintain” through planting ecotopes, [or environmental landscapes], “that keep land, water and its fauna in balance.”

Brodfuehrer said the university’s support of the Ellicott Creek landscape considers not just North Campus’ land within a larger regional ecosystem but also UB’s role to maintain a healthy environment.

An uncertain future

In September, the Student Association spent $6,863.90 on a wilderness first aid training event with Outdoor Pursuits at Camp Wyomoco in Varysburg, according to the SA ledger. SA spent $300 to rent the camp, and $820 to transport students to and from the camp.

SA could have saved $1,120 by hosting the event at an on-campus recreational area.

“They went quite a ways away and they had to go off of UB property to go do that training,” Eisenhauer said. “I see it as a missed opportunity for UB to force people off of your campus despite being able to provide these amenities [on North Campus].”

UB does not have a recreational area or camp, unlike SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Buffalo State.

For the past two years, Outdoor Pursuits has proposed programs on the land to Student Life, according to Eisenhauer, but Student Life has not hosted recreational events on the land.

SA President Gunnar Haberl, who proposed a UB-sponsored campground in March, said he didn’t know UB owned the land east of the Millersport Highway.

Haberl said he’d be excited to partner with Outdoor Pursuits and UB toward student recreational programming on campus. Haberl said he would look at cost effectiveness and the feasibility of those programs.

“Just like developments along Lake LaSalle, UB is taking that land, expanding and using the resources there — as well as expanding kayaking hours for students,” Haberl said. “Through that action, UB is saying they care about outdoor recreation but with this land, if it can [be used for] recreation, [UB] should provide outdoor recreational opportunities for students on that and I’d be more than willing to partner with them on that.”

Haberl said with any construction happening at UB, the university needs to conserve “any green space” it has on its property and effectively utilize it.

Eisenhauer said he recognizes Student Life’s administrative transitions and other outside factors playing a role in past denied proposals. Whether UB uses the land for academic buildings or retirement homes, Eisenhauer said his generation is looking for outdoor experiences and opportunities without necessarily going two or three hours away.

“Part of development itself is making sure the land is used in the best way possible and I think UB really needs to double down on that because I don’t know if they always do that,” Eisenhauer said.

Outdoor Pursuits “currently does not use the land for student activities” and doesn’t “have plans for use of that space,” according to UB Spokesperson Kate McKenna.

Although UB said it does not have plans for the land, the Town of Amherst recently introduced plans for a park on a portion of UB’s land. Amherst Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa discussed the proposal during his State of the Town address in January.

Investors proposed a $250 million development to the town at the former Westwood Country Club site, according to WBFO. The proposal, dubbed Amherst Central Park, also includes surrounding properties like UB’s land east of the Millersport Highway.
 

Ryan McPherson, Chief Sustainability Officer with UB Sustainability, said his office is looking at the land’s potential for “ground-mounted solar systems” which would provide “100 new megawatts of renewable energy for UB and its partners.”
 

The installations would be in tune with UB Sustainability’s Rev Campus Challenge, a “renewable energy initiative” to “invest in the region while reducing energy costs” at institutions such as UB, according to UB Sustainability’s website.

Aside from environmental use, students such as Callum Richardson want UB to consider the land for parking.

“Everyone is always complaining about parking. If UB built a shuttle stop next to a parking spot it could bring people to the Ellicott [Complex] or the [academic] spine,” said Richardson, a freshman undecided major.

Eisenhauer said no matter the project, he “desperately thinks” UB needs to create more spaces where students, faculty and staff “want to be.”
 

“Right now, North Campus is pretty dry and if you’re there, you’re probably there for class,” Eisenhauer said. “Students’ options are the Student Union and the Commons which are what they are, so I think that UB really needs to look at creating something - an environment where people want to be.”

Benjamin Blanchet is the senior features editor and can be reached at benjamin.blanchet@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter at @BenjaminUBSpec.