Buffalo's Planning Board gave the go-ahead Monday to building 166 units of affordable housing to replace the city's Shoreline Apartments on Niagara Street.
This project has been in limbo for more than a year, in furious fights over financing and resident relocations in a community where there is very little affordable housing. Once, a much larger Shoreline had 472 units, which have gradually been closed and demolished.
Earlier this year, Phase One of what will be called Niagara Square Apartments was completed, with 48-units - all filled with former tenants of demolished Shoreline buildings.
Norstar Development Senior Vice President Linda Goodman said the goal for Phase Two will be to start construction in summer and finish in 18-20 months. Goodman said much of the old complex was vacant.
"Mathematically, when we started this project, there was an 89-unit building that had been shut down for 10 years, long before Norstar came into it," she said. "Again, for the Planning Board, the state folks all look at this as, 'Let's spread affordable housing throughout the city' and we feel that's a better mix, because it's a good mix for the downtown core."
Even Planning Board Chairman James Morrell said there are a lot of people opposed to this project.
Resident John Schmidt is the last holdout in the current buildings and was very critical of the management and operation. Schmidt said Norstar does not deserve to continue running a project it owns and the new space will not be as good as the original.
"In addition to getting your chipboard fire trap, you'll have the same people in charge of it, victimizing tenants the same as they did before and allowing the place to run down," Schmidt said. "People who did this to Shoreline are not morally competent to be allowed to rebuild it."
The new buildings will look much different from the massive concrete complex they will replace. Some buildings will open earlier than others, allowing a gradual move-in of people holding Section 8 certificates, especially former tenants forced to move miles away for cheap housing.
Planning Board Member Henry Burns voted against the approval.
"I don't dismiss what I heard today and I'm sorry I can't embrace that whole thing," Burns said. "I know it's not my responsibility. Whose responsibility is it? The State of New York?"
Norstar admitted there are problems, but argued they started long before the company bought Shoreline, inheriting a closed 89-unit building and characterizing what was left as "grossly deteriorated, energy inefficient and functionally obsolete."