Preservation Board rejects $7 million Episcopal housing complex

Nov 17, 2017

The Buffalo Preservation Board Thursday rejected a $7 million plan to turn the landmark Episcopal Church of the Ascension into a 28-unit affordable housing development for seniors.

While the board rejected the plan, the Episcopal Diocese and its housing affiliate are free to appeal the decision to Buffalo's Common Council, which can overturn the decision and allow the project to go forward.

The diocese and its representatives have stressed the project will be partially paid for with historic preservation tax credits and those might go away in the congressional tax debate.

Phil Pantano, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese and its housing affiliate, said the church wants to build the complex.

"Seeing this project through. There is a need for affordable housing in the City of Buffalo. That's well demonstrated," Pantano said. "There is a desire, a strong desire on behalf of the diocese to continue its mission to serve at that essential site and create a opportunity for people of all backgrounds to take advantage of and participate in the resurgence taking place in the City of Buffalo."

The plan was praised by lifelong Episcopal church member and leader and University at Buffalo Professor of Urban and Regional Planning Alfred Price.

"Very difficult to stand before the Preservation Board, make a case that there's some kind of pristine entrance corridor into Lin-Ox. That's, I think, wide of the mark," Price said. "I think this is a project that has merit on its face, where the developer, you couldn't ask for a more responsible developer if you're going to do units for lower-income seniors."

However, in a series of meetings, many neighbors made their opposition to the project known, partially because they do not like the design. Leslie Edmiston attacked the design and the church sponsorship.

"This is a detriment to our neighborhood," Edminston said. "The idea that they have to attach this carbuncle to the original church in order to save it is ludicrous, if the building came into the real estate market to be re-purposed as a living piece of our historic infrastructure without destroying the green space, eliminating the viewshed or obscuring the E.B. Green restoration."

The Preservation Board also had problems with the design.

How easy it would be to actually sell the property for commercial development also has been much debated during this fight over the church property. State and federal rules mean the actual church could not be divided up in a development. That is why a large building would be put onto what is now a lawn alongside the church.