25 Nov Lazar Cartu Declares Neighborhood opposition growing to Elmwood Crossing’s…
As developers Nick Sinatra and William Paladino work to build support for their plan to convert the former Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo campus into Elmwood Crossing, neighborhood opposition is slowly building against their effort to create a single set of zoning rules for the entire property to make the project easier and simpler.
An online petition to “preserve & restore our neighborhood” is now circulating in the Elmwood Village, urging the city to reject the request by the developers to designate the campus project as a “planned-unit development” or PUD. That request, which was the subject of a Nov. 6 public hearing, is currently pending before the Common Council.
A PUD refers to a type of development project and the regulations that govern what can be built. It’s intended as a deliberate grouping of various land uses within one overall project or subdivision, regardless of pre-existing zoning rules. It specifies exactly what a developer can and cannot do, and has been used in other situations in Buffalo to unify a complex plan and simplify the process.
However, city officials have noted that each individual project within the PUD area must still come back to the Planning Board for normal site plan review, which still provides opportunities for anyone to oppose a project or push for changes. Other approvals may also be required as normal.
Opponents want to deny what they call the “special zoning” of a PUD, because they say the developers “should not be allowed to circumvent the standard requirements of the Unified Development Plan” or Green Code, according to the petition. They want to “protect the scale and character of our neighborhood,” the petition says.
“We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to see that PUD is denied,” says the petition, which has 62 signatures and 17 comments as of Sunday.
The petition continues by citing a series of other priorities that supporters demand, including:
- Prioritizing renovation of the existing hospital buildings “to prevent further deterioration”
- No new retail space except on Elmwood Avenue, and specifically no retail on West Utica Street
- No shops larger than 3,500 square feet, in keeping with the Green Code
- Creation of a one-acre park
- No demolition of existing houses
- No sale of the Gallagher Parking Ramp to the developers
“West Utica will see the most change of any street impacted by the redevelopment, and amid that evolution, it’s important that the existing character of the neighborhood be preserved,” they wrote. “We have asked the development team to come up with an alternative layout for the townhouses that would keep the existing homes intact.”
However, they support the developers’ plan to demolish another home at 187 Bryant, which would be converted into a park, and urge that the PUD include a permanent zoning restriction to ensure it stays that way.
Indeed, the issue of green space and preservation is particularly sensitive to many. The developers incorporated pocket parks and play areas, adding new pedestrian and bicycle paths, playgrounds, pergolas, lawns and trees to the mix. But that hasn’t been sufficient to dull the criticism.
The letter from the two block club presidents – Carly Battin of Bryant-Oakland-Summer and Robert Pedersen of West Utica – criticized the developers for including as “green space” any area on the campus not covered by a building or parking. And they urged that the city work with the developers to at least double the actual proposed green space, with the city owning that land to ensure it remains publicly accessible.
Sinatra & Company Real Estate and Paladino’s Ellicott Development Co. have proposed converting the eight-acre campus into a mixture of residential, retail and office space that would maintain and reuse the majority of the old hospital buildings. Current plans call for 220 apartments, 27 condominiums, 22 for-sale townhouses, a 75-room boutique hotel, an urban grocery, boutique shops, offices and an EduKids day care center – all spread over multiple locations on three different streets.
Specifically, the condos, a fitness center, hotel and ground-floor retail will be in the 10-story Variety Tower. The Tanner Tower will have ground-level retail space and 49 apartments on the next eight floors. The three floors of the Alfiero Building will be all offices. And the Annex, D and MH buildings will have about 100 apartments – including affordable housing that would be developed in conjunction with People Inc.
The former Hodge Pharmacy is being converted to the EduKids day care. On West Utica, Essex Homes of Western New York is working with CJS to construct three-story townhomes, while the new West Utica Lofts building will include a grocery and a few other retail stores on the ground floor, plus 48 apartments on the upper levels.
Designed by Kideney Architects, the project would entail only limited demolition – including two houses on West Utica. A 34,400-square-foot portion of the tower complex also will be demolished to make room for a courtyard accessible from Hodge Avenue and Bryant Street.
However, most of the hospital buildings – including the Variety and Tanner towers and the Alfiero Building – would be kept and renovated, while two would be expanded. Tanner, along with three buildings known as the Annex, MH and D buildings, will be renovated with historic tax credits, while Variety and Alfiero will get new facades. And the developers are seeking to buy the now-vacant parking ramp from the city, to be reopened.
The first new building – a six-story retail and apartment building at the corner of Elmwood and Bryant avenues – has already been approved, and is underway. The city has already accepted a final environmental review statement covering the entire site. So approval of the PUD is the next step in a project that is expected to last through 2022.