More than 150 residents of the McCarley Gardens housing development on Buffalo's East Side will be living in new apartments by 2020.
The Buffalo Planning Board on Monday night gave the green light to Michael Chapman, pastor of St. John Baptist Church, and developer Nick Sinatra for a comprehensive renovation of the garden-style apartment community that the church owns just south of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Not only was the vote unanimous, but there was zero public opposition to the $35 million project that will transform one of the city's best-known neighborhoods, located at 818 Michigan Ave.
That's in stark contrast to past proposals for the area, including from the University at Buffalo, that met with a wall of resistance from residents.
A key reason: the developer and church leaders pledged that the tenants would stay at McCarley after the work is done, at the same government-subsidized rates that they've been paying.
Plans call for using extra units within the community to house a few residents for six to eight months at a time while their own unit is renovated. Sinatra would pay for the moves, and all tenants will be able to return.
"We will not be displacing any tenants or uprooting them from their home," said Matt Connors, vice president of development for Sinatra & Company Realty, which is acting as developer for the church but will not own the property. "We will maintain the affordable housing component and we will temporarily move people within the campus on this plot of land."
Additionally, Sinatra and Chapman persuaded residents that they would benefit from the outcome. Besides a top-to-bottom rehab of each apartment, with new finishes and mechanicals, the new units also will have porches or balconies, and larger bedrooms.
"The tenants will be in better units than they are now," said Planning Board member Horace Gioia.
Officials also worked behind the scenes in advance of the Planning Board discussion to answer questions and alleviate concerns. They met first with church leaders and then with McCarley tenants, presenting detailed plans and renderings, while soliciting feedback and additional ideas from the residents, such as playgrounds and community gardens.
"There was a community meeting, with their input, and it was very positive," said Essentino Lewis, co-chair of the church's deacon ministry.
A third public meeting is being convened in the next two weeks by Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, whose Council district includes McCarley Gardens.
"Everything was overwhelmingly positive," Connors said. "Everyone was comfortable with why we were doing it."
Built in 1978 and owned by the church's Oak-Michigan Development Corp. affiliate, McCarley Gardens is spread across more than 15 acres, mostly between Goodell, Oak, Michigan and Virginia streets. There are currently 27 two-bedroom, 94 three-bedroom and 28 four-bedroom units, ranging in size from 700 to 900 square feet, not including full basements.
The remaining 135 units would be renovated over a 30-month period, with new appliances, counter tops, cabinets, bathroom vanities, gabled roofs, flooring, walls, windows and blinds. New plumbing, electrical systems and central air conditioning would be installed, and forced-air would replace baseboard heat. Sanitary sewers and other utilities would also be upgraded.
Officials hope to start construction by the end of the year, with a goal of finishing by late 2019 or early 2020.