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Council to review Ascension Church plan rejected by Preservation Board

The Episcopal Diocese of Western New York is hoping for a turn of fate to be able to turn the historic Ascension Church into affordable housing units.

And it’s appealing to the Buffalo Common Council to make it happen.

The diocese’s $7 million project calls for transforming the vacant church at 16 Linwood Ave. and 67 North St. into 28 apartments for people 55 and older who are on fixed incomes, said project spokesman Phil Pantano. Eligibility would be set at 50 percent to 60 percent of the area median income.

The project was unanimously approved by the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals last November, Pantano said.

But the city’s Preservation Board denied the project that same month, expressing design-related concerns, Pantano said.

On Tuesday, the diocese is appealing to the Council to reverse the Preservation Board’s denial.

The proposed units – including 25 one-bedroom apartments and three two-bedroom units – would be constructed in the basement of the 19,377-square-foot Medina sandstone church, in the existing parish house designed by E.B. Green, and in a 17,184-square-foot addition to be built on the west side of the property.

Preservation Board deals blow to Ascension Church project

The units would range from 600 to 950 square feet, with 16 apartments in the addition, two in the church and the rest in the parish house. The existing church sanctuary would be reserved for community use to be determined by the diocese.

The project was first proposed nearly three years ago, in 2014, but the plan fell through because the National Park Service demanded design changes. After “extensive” work on the proposal and with significant feedback from the Park Service, the current design finally received approval last summer from the Park Service as well as the from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for tax credits, Pantano said.

Once it begins, work would last about 12 months. The church has been vacant for three years, after the congregation dwindled and then moved to another church, Pantano said.

The proposal is in keeping with the diocese’s mission of service to others and is “100 percent focused on affordable housing,” Pantano said.

“The need for quality affordable housing options in Buffalo is real. At a time when the Council is having important discussions about inclusionary zoning, the Episcopal Diocese is presenting a plan that is entirely focused on affordable housing,” Pantano said, adding that the plan "has met the stringent approval of federal, state and city reviewing agencies.”

The public hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers on the 13th floor of City Hall.

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