Planning Board approves controversial Elmwood Village project, lawsuit pending

Aug 1, 2017

After 30 years of plans and altered plans and new plans, the way may finally be clear for a major construction project at Elmwood and Forest avenues, replacing buildings past their prime. However, there is almost certain to be a lawsuit against the Chason Affinity project.

Again, another city regulatory agency started in the afternoon and went well into the evening to deal with the tangled rules controlling development in Buffalo. This time it was the city Planning Board, spending more than five hours plowing through a long list of projects before its August vacation.

The most controversial was the Chason Affinity project, a massive condo and retail project on the Elmwood/Forest corner, which needed a series of variances from the new Green Code to get approval and faced strong community opposition in the Elmwood Village. It has been so controversial the hour and a half of speakers was nearly an Elmwood Village civil war, with just about everyone involved living in the neighborhood.

The new building would replace 11 aging buildings at the intersection. Planning Board members said the plan is good for the neighborhood, with its condos potentially bringing shoppers to the building's stores and to other stores in that section of Elmwood. Member Horace Gioia reacted to opponent claims the plan was bad for the fabric of the Elmwood Village.

"No one owns the definition of what Elmwood Village is," he said. "It's different things to different people. Those are a lot of generalizations that people have made: It's out of character. What character? I think it's an important project that will make Elmwood and this whole area better."

Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz said the latest design is much better than earlier plans, especially because a lot of underground parking kept expected new residents from parking on the streets. Developer Mark Chason said the company is moving forward with the $30 million plan.
            
"There is an order to this, but we're excited to be where we are at this point and ready to move forward," he said.

Chason said the company will move ahead as fast as it can to get the project moving into demolition.

"Schedule? There's still some minor stuff ahead of us but, we hope to be able to be in construction say, probably in late September," Chason said.

Preservationist Daniel Sack said legal papers are being prepared to start a lawsuit against the city for its approval process and approval of so many variances to allow construction. Sack said the lawsuit will get into the minutia of development rules in the Elmwood Village.

"Basis of the lawsuit is the city not following their own code," he said. "The variances are extreme. They're not following the city's code. There are some variances they didn't apply for that they have to apply for. For instance, the south building is not a commercial, what they call a commercial block building. It's a stacked unit building. Stacked unit buildings are not allowed on Elmwood Avenue."

Chason lawyer Steve Ricca said everything was done properly and the courts will not stop the project.

The Planning Board could not approve the building until the variances were approved during a marathon session of the city Zoning Board of Appeals two weeks ago, in the same Council Chambers. The series of speakers opposing the project had a series of objections to the process and the way it was handled in City Hall.