Uniland hotel project delayed by Buffalo Planning Board - The Buffalo News
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Uniland hotel project delayed by Buffalo Planning Board

The Buffalo Planning Board on Tuesday tabled Uniland Development Co.’s proposal to build a 12-story hotel and office building at the corner of Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street, after the developer sought more time to work with neighbors and historic preservationists to address a range of concerns.

The project at 250 Delaware Ave. also faces a possible historic evaluation by the city Preservation Board for landmark status of the building it would replace.

The developer, which hopes to begin construction early next year, also needs zoning variances.

Uniland’s proposal for a curved-glass-front mixed-use facility calls for a four-story, 120-room hotel on the second through fifth floors and 190,894 square feet of office space from the sixth through 12th floors. Lobbies for both the hotel and offices, as well as four boutique shops and an open garden, would occupy most of the first floor, while a controversial five-story parking ramp would be located in the rear.

The project entails demolishing the ornate two-story Delaware Court building, which Uniland acquired in September 2012 for $3 million. No major office tenant has been identified for the new facility, but Uniland is known to be working with Delaware North Cos., which is seeking to relocate from KeyCenter at Fountain Plaza when its current lease expires in 2015.

Architects for Uniland on Tuesday presented the Planning Board modified plans and updated renderings of the block-long project, including more retail storefront both on Chippewa Street and Elmwood Avenue in front of the 520-space parking ramp. The added retail space, which was not included in the original plans, was designed to answer both safety and aesthetic issues that had been raised at a public community forum last month. Critics then cited the potential for a long, imposing, dark garage stretching down half of Chippewa as inviting for crime and thus potentially unsafe.

The next Planning Board meeting is Sept. 24, followed by another Oct. 8.

Uniland faces some opposition from preservationists, who want the company to retain more of the nearly century-old building, particularly its terra-cotta facade.

The Buffalo Preservation Board, which reviews all applications for demolition in the city and considers buildings for landmark status, deemed the developer’s plans incomplete at its Sept. 5 meeting because it hadn’t received new renderings or an engineering study.

But citing what board member Timothy Tielman called the “imminent threat of demolition,” the board voted to undertake an architectural survey of the site for possible nomination as a historic landmark. That study requires a public hearing.

The board also formed a subcommittee – consisting of Tielman, architect Gwen Howard and Richard Lippes, a board member of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo – to continue meeting with Uniland.

But Tielman, who is also executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, noted in an interview that, even if the building is deemed a landmark, that doesn’t automatically derail the entire project. Rather, it may mean that some percentage of the original building is incorporated into the new project, or parts of it may be “recalled” by replicating the terra-cotta or other features of the facade, for example.

Already, he said, the revised drawings incorporated “welcome” changes, so the plan “definitely in our opinion is moving in the right direction,” and “we will continue to work with them.”

Existing tenants of the Delaware Court building are also upset about how they’re being treated. Lynne LaMattina, owner of Papillon Salon, said Uniland representatives asked her more than a month ago to sign a document agreeing to mutually terminate her lease as of Sept. 30. The hair salon, which has been there for 15 years, has another year on its lease.

She refused to sign after the representatives couldn’t guarantee that she would be a tenant in planned facility and couldn’t offer a solution for her business during the interim period between demolition of the old and the opening of the new. Uniland officials have not responded to her since, she said.

“So I am sitting in limbo, as are the people who are month to month. That’s not the way to handle things,” she said. “I’m all for Buffalo progressing and advancing downtown. But when you’re on the receiving end of what it takes to make this happen, it’s very disconcerting.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com

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