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An abandoned inner-city building that at different times served as a residence for nurses and seminarians may be redeveloped as affordable housing for very-low-income families.

Center City Neighborhood Development Corp. wants to redevelop the five-story red brick structure at 542 Sixth St. into 18 apartments.

The Planning Board on Wednesday approved the proposal.

The project would allow the neighborhood agency to address "the overwhelming need for housing units for larger families by providing 12 spacious three-bedroom apartments," said Carolyn A. Van Schaik, executive director. The waiting list for larger units is so long, the agency cannot meet the demand, she said.

One one-bedroom apartment for a resident manager and five two-bedroom apartments also would be carved out of the 54 single units in the building.

The facade would be kept mainly intact, Schaik said. Most of a courtyard in the rear of the building would be preserved as green space, minus 14 parking spaces that would be created along the rear alley.

Center City is requesting a variance for the 34 parking spaces that would be required for the 18 units from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Van Schaik said 14 spaces would be adequate because very-low-income people often do not own cars and rely instead on taxis and public transportation.

The building is known as the Vincentian Residence because it was last used for housing seminarians who attended Niagara University. The priests who operate the university are known as Vincentians after the religious order's founder, St. Vincent de Paul. Across the street from the old Mount St. Mary's Hospital, the building also formerly served as a nurses' residence.

The city took the residence for unpaid taxes. At the last property auction, the city rejected a $1,000 bid for it because there was no development plan for the building. Center City is offering to pay the bid price. The City Council must approve the sale.

Center City is seeking federal funds. If approved, construction would begin in October, with completion expected in fall 2002.

The board also held two public hearings:

The first was on a request by Dunkin' Donuts to rezone two residential parcels to commercial for a new 3,200-square-foot store with a drive-through window.

The second was on rezoning Niagara Falls Boulevard from 97th Street to the east city line from multifamily residential to commercial.

The Planning Board will take action on both requests at a future meeting.

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