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Residents speak out on plan for hotel on Elmwood Ave. Developer asks packed audience: If not 'boutique hotel,' then what?

Before details of the hotel proposed for the Elmwood Village were presented Tuesday, the developer posed a couple of philosophical questions to a standing-room-only crowd of residents from that area.

"Is it the right project for this block?" asked Sam Savarino of Savarino Construction Services Corp. of Amherst. And, if it is, "Have we got it right?"

Of the dozens of residents who spoke afterwards, the answers generally were "No" and "No."

A community information meeting was held in Burchfield-Penney Art Center Gallery at Buffalo State College. The proposal also is on the Feb. 28 agenda of the Buffalo Planning Board and the Common Council's Legislation Committee.

The proposal is for a $7 million five-story, 80-room "boutique hotel" at the southeast corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues. Savarino has contracted to buy the five properties from 1109 to 1121 Elmwood Ave., which house apartments and ground-level retail businesses, and demolish them.

The site, slightly larger than a half-acre, would include underground parking for 39 vehicles and a surface lot behind the hotel for another 14.

Talks are under way to make it part of the Wyndham chain. "Other than that, we want it to feel local," said Eva Hassett, Savarino's vice president for strategic initiatives.

That is, use local college students studying the hospitality industry as interns and employees, decorate the space with local art and utilize local services.

"We do not want to harm anybody's business -- that's not our intent here," Hassett said.

The hotel is designed to wrap around the corner of Elmwood and Forest, a style found elsewhere in Buffalo. Designed by architect Karl Frizlen, it incorporates urban design principles such as parking in the rear and retail space at street level.

The design was the subject of many residents' comments.

"I think it's totally out of scale to the area and it doesn't conform with the style at all," a woman said.

A resident of nearby Penhurst Park, one of Buffalo's more expensive addresses, said: "When I think of a boutique hotel, I don't think of 80 rooms."

"It's all about aesthetics," another man said.

Still another resident suggested a redesign is in order to call it a boutique hotel. The current design looks like a "Lego building," he said.

Privacy, traffic congestion and parking were among other concerns raised by residents.

"If this is implemented, I will get zero sunlight," said a resident of Granger Place, which runs parallel to Elmwood behind the site.

Further, the Granger Place resident said, children on that street will have hotel guests looking into their yards. "They are on permanent reality TV," he said.

In response, the architect said the distance between the back of the hotel and the back of Granger Place would be approximately 200 feet. "That might or might not dispel some of your privacy issues," Frizlen said.

There was some support for the proposal, including a woman who identified herself as a commercial realtor. "If I were a merchant on Elmwood Avenue, I would be very, very happy about this hotel," she said.

"I, as a businessman, am for it," said a bar owner on that block. "Don't deny it to us. Nothing's happened between Bird and Forest except for what we've put in."

As the meeting wrapped up, Savarino encouraged further input from residents.

"We are trying to propose . . . a project that will be a benefit to the community," he said. "We understand there's an awful lot of voices to be heard. We promise to be flexible."

And he also gave them food for thought:

"If we're not out here doing this, what are you going to have at that corner?" Savarino asked.


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