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Agency wants to develop low-income apartments

A not-for-profit agency whose main thrust is alcohol and substance abuse treatment is planning to branch out into affordable housing development.

Cazenovia Recovery Systems proposes converting a 70-year-old industrial building on Main Street, near Amherst Street, into a 24-unit, low-income housing complex. The development would be called Central Park Commons.

The 30-year-old agency, which has extensive housing experience via its residential treatment programs, would like to offer affordable apartments to the general population.

"We know there's a need for additional subsidized housing from our work with our clients. Housing and homelessness issues are something we'd like to get more involved with," said Cazenovia Executive Director Suzanne Bissonette.

The agency has filed plans with the Buffalo planning and zoning boards for a $7 million project that would see the former Cranz Rubber & Gasket building at 2665-2671 Main St. converted to 24 low-cost one- and two-bedroom apartments. A portion of the ground floor of the three-story structure would house the agency's offices.

"We'd be able to bring our administrative staff under one roof and we'd be on-site to manage the housing venture. It makes a lot of sense for many reasons," Bissonette said.

The Main Street building is currently owned by Del Prince Fashions which has used the site as administrative offices, plus receiving and warehouse space. Founder Chris Del Prince, who sold its Lifestyle Street Gear apparel chain last year, said he's looking for "quarters better suited to the exciting new direction" in which his business is headed.

Currently, Cazenovia's administrative offices are located in leased space at 206 S. Elmwood Ave. The agency also operates three residential treatment facilities in the City of Buffalo, as well as a residential venue in Eden. Cazenovia also owns single-family homes and multiple-unit dwellings around Erie County for clients who are in the final stages of their treatment programs.

In action last week, the city planning board tabled the proposal to allow more time for input from neighborhood residents and businesses regarding the housing project.

Bissonette said while the agency has held information sessions with various community groups, it is open to meeting with more neighborhood stakeholders.

"I think because of the nature of what we do, there are fears about who will be living there and what we'll be doing," Bissonette said. "It's understandable there are questions, but we'd hope to convince them that any worries they have are unfounded."

She noted Cazenovia's clients have a long history of community service as a part of their recovery programs and the communities they've served can vouch for their contributions.

Under the agency's current plans, four of the 24 units would be set aside for program clients who are in the final stages of their recoveries and qualify for subsidized housing. The bulk of the tenants would be members of the general population who meet income guidelines for affordable housing.

Bissonette said the agency looked at several potential sites before selecting the Main Street complex for it project. She said the circa 1930s industrial complex, which is actually two buildings joined by a middle connecting structure, has several interesting features, including a skylight that runs the length of the structure and much of the original ironwork.

The agency plans to landscape the property and erect decorative fencing. Plans also call for demolition of two wood frame structures on the site to make room for expansion of the main brick buildings toward the rear of the parcel.

The conversion and expansion as proposed will create 35,531 square feet of residential space and 6,269 square feet of office space.

Primary access to the housing development and offices would be from the rear off Pannell Street, with some 40 surface parking spots for residents and staff.


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