Plenty of green space, a focus on residential units and development that fits harmoniously into the neighborhood quickly rose to the top of the list of favored elements for reusing the site of Women & Children’s Hospital at a public meeting Wednesday evening.
“We need a design in keeping with the neighborhood,” Lynette Blacher, an Elmwood Village resident, said at the event organized by the Elmwood Village Association.
“Whatever is done needs to blend into the existing fabric of the village,” echoed another resident, Alan Gerstman.
“I’m looking to see a variety of uses – mixed uses – and I don’t want to see parking lots,” said Guy Berberich of Allentown.
So it went at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church as people reviewedor the sprawling 125-year-old hospital campus, consisting of seven interconnected buildings, mostly between Bryant Street and Hodge Avenue and stretching to Elmwood Avenue.
Related content: Proposals for redeveloping Children’s Hospital site
Developers want the right to acquire and redevelop the 7.9-acre property from Kaleida Health. The hospital system is relocating its pediatric and obstetrical programs to a new $267 million building – renamed the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital – under construction on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
It’s anticipated the Kaleida Health board of directors will choose one of the developers’ proposals in mid-2016, and the current facilities are scheduled to be empty by November 2017.
“We are at the starting line of developing the site, and this meeting can only further the decision-making process,” said Michael Hughes, spokesman for Kaleida Health.
The Elmwood Village Association handled the meeting as an informal open house, with detailed exhibits for each proposal and areas set aside for individuals to post comments and questions, as well as rank elements of the proposals they liked or didn’t like. One thing that stood out about the exhibits is that they detailed key aspects of the overall project, which is fairly complex, allowing community members to make apples-to-apples comparisons of what each developer had proposed at various locations.
Carly Battin, executive director of the association, said the three-hour gathering offered residents, business owners and others another opportunity to study the proposals and register their comments and questions. She said the association plans to share the information with Kaleida and post answers to the questions on its website, www.elmwoodvillage.org.
Each developer – Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., Ellicott Development Co., Pyramid Brokerage Co., Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and Uniland Development Co. – submitted multimillion-dollar reuse plans with different visions.
The meeting wasn’t so much about choosing a favorite proposal as much as highlighting on big sheets of paper the elements that people want to see in the redevelopment and identifying undesirable elements.
For example, one hour into the meeting, participants ranked favorably such things as public and green space, development that fit the scale of the neighborhood, townhouses and condos for sale rather than for rent, and consideration of the parking needs in the area. People seemed to like ideas for a soccer field, grocery store and restaurants. There was mixed reaction to having a school as part of the reuse and, at least by 6 p.m., little support for a hotel.
Blacher, for instance, wasn’t enthusiastic about locating a school at the site, considered a proposal for a soccer field along Utica Street a potentially limited use for the site, and emphasized the need for adequate parking.
“Elmwood is more of a destination spot, with its restaurants and boutiques. I’m not sure a school fits there,” she said.
Gerstman said he wanted to see residential development that conformed to the look and scale of the existing homes. He favored residences along Utica, a street he sees as benefiting greatly from the addition of more condo or townhome owners.
Likewise, Berberich liked the idea of residential development on Utica. Bigger picture, he said, the project must respect the neighborhood.
“This project needs to have high-quality design elements that are pro-urban,” he said.
Kaleida Health continues to collect public comments through a dedicated website – www.kaleidahealth.org/childrens/reuse – that also includes information about the proposals.