Share this article

print logo

Fruit Belt townhouse plan gains ground; Council OKs transfer of city-owned parcels in plan for low- and moderate-income units

A proposal to build 49 townhouse units in the city's Fruit Belt neighborhood received a significant boost Tuesday as the Common Council approved transfer of 50 city-owned parcels for the project.

St. John Community Development Corp., an arm of St. John Baptist Church on Goodell Street, wants to construct 17 buildings of two, three and four units that would be rented to low- and moderate-income individuals and families.

Pastor Michael Chapman said the units, to be constructed in the neighborhood adjoining the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, will be open to anyone in the community.

"You can't have a world-class medical campus without a world-class community," Chapman told members of the Council's Community Development Committee, "and so this is our effort to build up the community, as the Medical Campus develops also."

Lawmakers, who voted 8-0 Tuesday to approve the transfer, will still have to approve a final price for the land at a later date.

The fair-market value of the 50 parcels -- on Maple, Carlton, Mulberry, Locust, Lemon, Rose, Peach and Grape streets -- is $80,500, according to a memo to the Council from Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning.

The project, which Chapman said will create 150 jobs, is receiving about $11 million in tax breaks through the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Construction could begin as soon as August and be completed in 12 to 18 months, said Chapman, whose church has previously built 28 townhouse units, a charter school and a hospice facility.

The project is being supported by Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Office of Strategic Planning.

Potential tenants, who are subject to screening, will have to contact Rental Assistance Corp. of Buffalo or Belmont Housing Services of Western New York.

Most of the buildings will be constructed on sites where several lots are combined.

Sixty percent of the workforce building the federally subsidized housing will be African-American males, Chapman said.

About 70 people attended Tuesday's committee meeting in City Hall; three residents of the neighborhood spoke against the project.

Harvil Hill of Mulberry Street said he was concerned about an increase in the number of tenant-occupied homes on his street. He said more owner-occupied housing is needed.

Denise L. Wiggins, of Maple Street, who said she has lived in the Fruit Belt her whole life, asked who would be responsible for upkeep of the properties -- tenants or the church?

Chapman said the church pays a management company more than $100,000 a year to care for its properties.

Amid the airing of concerns from the three neighbors, Chapman offered some of them a spot on a committee that screens potential tenants.

Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen said his office would send out fliers in the neighborhood soliciting a volunteer representative from each street.

Lawmakers held the special session Tuesday in order to act on the transfer. The action could not wait until next Tuesday's scheduled meeting because St. John Community Development Corp. had to meet a deadline for a funding application, city officials said.

Last October, the church unveiled plans to build a $1.5-million, two-story market at High and Mulberry streets.

In other Council matters Tuesday, Pat Freeman, sports director at WUFO 1080-AM radio, gave a presentation calling for the construction of a domed football stadium in downtown Buffalo, rather than making renovations to the current Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.

Freeman was invited to the session by Majority Leader Demone A. Smith.