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Elmwood must thrive City has to come up with a plan to ease neighborhood's parking crunch

The arguments for and against the development of Elmwood Avenue's largest parking lot into upscale apartments are of the sort that are neither right nor wrong, just heartfelt. But the argument that is indisputably correct is that whatever happens — but especially if this project goes forward — the city needs to develop a long-term plan to create enough parking to sustain Elmwood as a unique and desirable shopping destination and neighborhood.

Anyone who has tried parking near a shop on a busy day understands the problem. You drive for 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes circling the same block multiple times, hoping to find a space within reasonable walking distance of your goal. More often than not, you can't.

The development proposal is to turn the parking lot at 766 Elmwood Ave., between Cleveland and Auburn avenues, into a $4 million mixed-use development that would include up to 24 upscale one- and two-bedroom apartments and four retail stores.

Some residents and business owners are apprehensive because eliminating that lot will make a difficult parking situation worse.

But construction of the apartment-retail building would also add desirable density to one of Buffalo's premier neighborhoods, while bringing new money into the economy of the Elmwood Village. It's a city, after all, and people are the name of the game.

But for people traveling to the neighborhood to eat, shop or just visit, parking is essential. There is no easy public transportation from, say, Hamburg to the corner of Elmwood and Bryant. You need a car and a car needs a parking spot.

This has been a challenge for years along Elmwood and, regardless of the ultimate decision on the apartment project, the challenge needs to be met. For the city to thrive, Elmwood must also thrive.

This is a matter for Buffalo's mayor and Common Council to confront now, along with the Elmwood Village Association, whose goal is "to work with businesses and residents to improve the quality of life for our entire community."

Alternatives exist. One idea, which will be implemented soon on a trial basis, is to reduce alternate parking hours on nearby side streets. That would reduce hours for street cleaning, but would make more parking spaces available.

For the future, the city could also consider using part of the Women & Children's Hospital campus after the hospital's move to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, assuming it can be done in a way consistent with Elmwood's character and appropriate use of the property.

What should be plain is that this issue had gone unattended long enough. The Elmwood Village is a jewel in Buffalo's brightening crown. It is an asset that needs to be protected and polished. It has the shops and the restaurants people seek out. It has a residential neighborhood that other cities would love to have. But it needs a place for visitors to leave their cars and explore.

It's time to get on with that.