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Swan Street Railyard

Planning Board backs four projects despite neighbor criticism on three

By March 3, 2023No Comments

Originally Published:

by Jonathan D. Epstein | February 28, 2023

They tried objecting to the disruptions caused by traffic, noise and pollution. They claimed a loss of greenspace and violation of prior covenants. They complained about height. And they threatened legal action.

But none of the neighbors seeking to stop new developments next to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, on Delaware Avenue or on Grant Street were able to persuade the city Planning Board on Monday of the merits of their protests.

“There is nothing I’ve seen or heard, over the last 18 months, that would lead me to draw a conclusion that there’s a significant negative impact,” said Cynthia Schwartz, vice chair of the panel, referring to a planned new six-story workforce and affordable housing building planned for the northwest corner of McCarley Gardens, and the accompanying proposal to realign and straighten North Oak Street to intersect with Virginia Street once again.

One person, Syed Ali, even tried a personal attack on the actions and character of developer Christopher Siano of HES Properties, which the board quickly squashed.

“Your commentary on the applicant has no bearing on the project,” Schwartz said to Ali.

In the end, the Planning Board gave key approvals to four projects that would bring 332 apartments to different areas of the city, with over $60 million of investment.

McCarley Gardens

BFC Partners of Brooklyn, working with McCarley Gardens owner St. John Baptist Church, is planning to put up a new apartment building at 172 Goodell St., using the stub that sticks out from the 15-acre campus at North Oak, Virginia and Ellicott streets. The building would feature 220 affordable and market-rate apartments above 20,762 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and would more than double the number of residents at McCarley.

As part of the plan, BFC would swap land with the city to reroute North Oak, which now juts off to the west at McCarley, to intersect with Ellicott The developer says it needs that land to make the project work, for a more efficient building layout and more exposure on Ellicott Street for retail space.

But its neighbor to the north – the medical campus – has objected, citing inadequate traffic studies and capacity, noise, pollution and other impacts. It has argued the proposal would take away parts of a 3,000-foot-long linear park along Ellicott, while potentially depriving the medical campus of future development opportunities. It says the plan would violate prior agreements. And it has already sued once.

Project attorney Sean Hopkins, together with lead architect Carmina Wood Design and traffic engineers from Fisher Associates, has refuted each of the assertions by the medical campusand said he has seen no evidence of one of the purported agreements. He also said the proposal is consistent with the city’s land-use, zoning and comprehensive plan, even citing a letter BFC received Monday from Erie County.
“All the information prepared by experts conclusively demonstrates that this project will not result in significant adverse impacts. There will be impacts, but not significant,” Hopkins said. “We also think that will enhance, not detract from, the linear park.”

On Monday, they also presented an updated site plan that clarified the footprint of the proposed building while showing it would be set back at least 17 feet from the property line, so it would not hinder future medical campus development. And they again rejected the contention that the project is being “fast-tracked,” noting that they were not even seeking site plan approval yet.

“It’s now been in front of you for 18 months,” Hopkins said. “This board has done a great job of making sure you’ve done a very thorough review … It’s a big project, and we appreciate your doing your homework.”

The Planning Board approved a “negative declaration” of environmental impact for the plan, and recommended a rezoning by the Common Council. BFC will come back later for site plan review.

“My client is 100% committed to seeing this project full,” Hopkins added. “The need for affordable housing only grows by the day.”

505 Delaware

Yang Li of West Windsor, N.J. – through his Kenmore-based LCB Capital – wants to construct a five-story building with 44 market-rate apartments on Delaware Avenue in Allentown, reusing an existing two-story medical office building and an adjacent parking lot. A vacant one-story brick building of 2,559 square feet that fronts on Virginia Street would be demolished, however, to make room for eight more surface parking spaces and greenspace.

Plans call for a new 41,512-square-foot mixed-use building next to an existing 14,166-square-foot structure. The new building between Virginia and Allen streetswould have 40 market-rate apartments on the upper floors, above an 18-space surface parking area. The older building would gain four more apartments on the renovated upper floor, above commercial and retail space.

The $4.35 million project already cleared both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Buffalo Preservation Board, with some changes to the designGone are the metal panels on the facade, replaced by architectural block and brick, and the rear of the building now has a two-story portion closer to the neighbors, with the five-story section set back another 20 feet.

Even so, neighbor Averie Dilapo Montagu, who lives just down the street, objected to the height, which she said is not consistent with the neighborhood or the historic district. She said other nearby residents and the Allentown Association share her feelings. “It’s going to dominate the block at five stories,” she said. “This is my concern. It’s my neighbors’ concern.”

But Planning Board members noted the physical height of about 62 feet is not that much different than an adjacent law office building or the nearby Midway houses, despite the number of floors in LCB’s proposal. And it is allowed at the site by zoning without a variance. “It’s a matter of feet,” Schwartz said. “It meets code.”
386 Grant

HES Properties won approval for its three-story mixed-use project at 386 Grant, where it would erect a 5,800-square-foot building with five one-bedroom apartments and a small 800-square-foot commercial space on the ground floor. One apartment on the ground floor would be handicapped accessible. Six parking spaces are included in the $1 million plan.

Siano said his firm has clear title to the property, and presented a land survey, but Ali continued to insist that Siano illegally tore up part of a shared driveway, violating a “prescriptive easement” that was created through years of use

“If he believes he has title to our property, he should pursue it in court,” Siano retorted.

A rendering of the proposed Swan Street Railyard building at 567 Swan St., as envisioned by Lazarus Industries and Frontier Group of Companies.

Finally, the board gave site plan approval to a $20 million proposal by Frontier Group of Companies and Lazarus Industries to bring 62 apartments, 51,000 square feet of commercial space and two warehouses to a 3.7-acre former railyard site west of Larkinville.

Located at 567 Swan St. and 592 Seneca St., the project would feature a three-story mixed-use building at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Swan, with 28 one-bedroom apartments and 34 two-bedroom units on the second and third floors, above 36,000 square feet of commercial space. A separate 15,000-square-foot metal storage building in the rear would offer two light industrial spaces.

The project had been held up by an inadequate transportation demand management plan that was previously submitted, but the architects and engineers from Schenne Associates updated the plan to meet city requirements.

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