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Buffalo Planning Board likes Main Street apartment project

City planners heard initial presentations Monday on plans for new apartments in a former warehouse on Main Street and a former school on Hertel Avenue, as developers continue efforts to reuse older structures for residential living.

Sinata & Company Real Estate and partner Sundra Ryce of SLR Contracting plan to convert the 88,000-square-foot former American Household Moving & Storage facility at 1661 Main, between East Ferry Street and Delavan Avenue, into 55 apartments on the upper five floors and 7,800 square feet of commercial space on the first floor. The units are aimed at affordable “workforce housing” for medical campus employees, and will include a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, with market-rate rents ranging from $900 to $1,100 a month.

The $10 million project received $1.2 million from the Better Buffalo Fund, part of Gov. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative, and Sinatra and Ryce plan to seek tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, said Sinatra Vice President of Development Matt Connors. No historic or other tax credits are included.

The Planning Board will lead the city’s review of the project, but could not take formal action until the next meeting on Dec. 14, although the members liked what they saw. “This is a great addition for this end of Main Street,” said board member Cynthia Schwartz.

Meanwhile, Iskalo Development Co. plans to convert the former St. Margaret’s School at 1391 Hertel, near Colvin Avenue, into 23 apartments and about 2,000 square feet of commercial space. Crews will “reskin” the 30,000-square-foot building, changing its 1950s-era “banded design” to “something much more pleasant and consistent with what we’re seeing as far as redevelopment on Hertel,” said Marc Romanowski of Hopkins Sorgi & Romanowski, who represents Iskalo.

The former convent on the site will also be demolished, he said, “mainly because the building is beyond repair at this point and we need the space to accommodate parking for residents.” Plans call for 49 parking spaces, more than the 36 that are required by code. A parking-related variance is required from the Zoning Board of Appeals before the Planning Board can grant its own approval, now expected at the panel’s Dec. 14 meeting.

The Planning Board also recommended approval by the Common Council for:

• A new grocery and take-out store by Mohammed Ali Alhushaishi at 896 Niagara St., in the Niagara River Coastal Special Review District.

• Rodney Wilkinson to re-open an existing take-out restaurant at 3300 Bailey Ave. in the Kensington-Bailey Special District, after he bought the dilapidated building eight years ago and invested money to fix it.

• A new non-digital “static” 25-foot-high billboard by Greyline Signs of Brant at 399 Ohio St., on the site of a planned new residential project by Ellicott Development Co.

However, the board failed, by a 3-2 vote, to recommend another 25-foot Greyline billboard at 51 Broadway, after Schwartz and board member Henry Burns balked at the height in the middle of downtown Buffalo, even if it were lowered to 18 feet. “I’m not a fan of billboards,” Schwartz admitted.

The Council can still approve it without the recommendation.