Elmwood Village plan cause controversy

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Unofficially, the corner of Elmwood and Forest serves as a gateway to the Elmwood Village.

To the north is Buffalo State College and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; to the south is Elmwood's diverse array of shops and restaurants. On one side of this intersection, you'll notice a collection of old apartment buildings and small businesses, including a tattoo parlor and a grungy music shop. For drivers and pedestrians heading south, this old housing stock is the first impression of the Elmwood Village.

But Chason Affinity Companies, which owns and controls this 1.1-acre parcel at the Elmwood/Forest intersection, would like to change that first impression.

The company has proposed demolishing the existing 14 structures on the site and replacing them with a five-story multi-use complex, including 44 condominium units, three retail spaces and 140 parking spots.

On Monday, during a public hearing in front of the Buffalo Planning Board, Chason Affinity Companies unveiled renderings of its proposal, which totals 166,000 square feet and would, without a doubt, dramatically transform the northern end of the Elmwood Village.

Some people in the neighborhood like the idea of that transformation, including Kilby Bronstein and her mother Jennifer. They own a boutique named "Half and Half" on Elmwood Avenue, no more than a few hundred feet away from Chason's proposed development.

The Bronsteins see the project as an economic engine that could inject life into their portion of the Elmwood Village.

And they believe the project can move forward without compromising the neighborhood.

"It fits into the area," Jennifer Bronstein said, "primarily because it's a historic looking building. It reflects Buffalo."

But that's not how some of the next-door neighbors feel. Sandra Girage, whose family has owned a home on the 600 block of Forest Avenue for 70 years, called the proposal a "disaster" that threatens to ruin the entire neighborhood.

"This is the 'Nightmare On Elmwood'," Girage said. "The demolition alone is horrifying. It's inconsiderate. It's a project that's not needed."

Girage's attorney, Arthur Giacalone, wrote a letter to the Planning Board in which he argued that Chason Affinity Companies' Draft Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate. The DEIS is currently under review by the Planning Board and was the subject of Monday's public hearing along with the site plan.

Giacalone believes the developer has not accurately represented the potential disturbances of the project and would "rip apart" a historic neighborhood.

Susan Davis, who also lives next to the proposed development, said she's particularly concerned about the noise impact, which she feels was not addressed by the DEIS.

"We're just afraid that the Planning Board is going to rubber stamp whatever they want to do," Davis said, "instead of investigating what they really want to do on that corner."

Mark Chason, the President of Chason Affinity Companies, said his development team is listening carefully to the neighbors' arguments.

Chason points to the fact that his team held at least 20 public meetings in an attempt to ease their concerns, adding that the original eight-story proposal (then a hotel project) has been scaled back to five stories. The fourth and fifth stories of the building would also be set back away from the street.

"We've actually done quite a bit. We've moved that end of the project away from them, we've stepped it down, reduced the number of units on that side, all to try to have a better product for them," Chason said.

In order to build a five-story structure, Chason Affinity Companies will likely need to obtain a special variance, due to the fact that the proposed Green Code will ban developments higher than three stories.

Chason said these approvals from the Planning Board and city may take a few months to navigate through.

He's adamant that the project will help transform that Elmwood Village Gateway in a way that helps everyone-- despite the concerns of those next-door neighbors.

"We know that they may never be happy about it, but I think we've gone to great lengths to try to appease them. And I think they're nice changes."

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

US Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority in the United States numbering 54.2 million as of July 2014. Serving: Buffalo, Rochester, Fredonia, Niagara Falls, NY and Erie, PA. Outside our Market area: Visit our affiliate at: http://www.impremedia.com/

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