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SUIT STOPS HOUSING PROJECT AT UB

A State Supreme Court justice Monday halted construction of an $11 million housing project on the University at Buffalo's North Campus.

Justice Vincent E. Doyle signed a temporary restraining order that bars the university's bulldozers from further work on the Skinnersville Road housing project until a hearing set for Friday.

The order is part of a lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court on Monday by a resident trying to block the university housing plan.

Rita Forman, who owns a condominium in nearby Beacon Park, argues that the apartments are being built on forested land that is favored by wildlife and better left in a natural state.

"Why am I doing it? Because I love nature. I have a deep, profound love of nature," Forman said.

Her suit claims the university is rushing to build the housing with no public input and should be required to study the project's environmental impact before proceeding.

The Skinnersville Road project -- which would house 232 upper-level students -- is the latest piece of a bold five-year, $100 million housing boom on and near UB's North Campus.

UB officials have said the apartments are popular with students, soften the stark look of buildings along the academic spine and create more of a community on campus.

The UB Foundation and the UB Alumni Association, which are involved in the project's financing, were served with legal papers Monday.

Dennis R. Black, vice president for student affairs, referred comment on the suit to the State University of New York counsel's office.

David Henahan, a SUNY spokesman, said state university officials, as a practice, don't comment on pending litigation.

The UB Environmental Task Force in June passed a resolution criticizing the Skinnersville plans. The task force said the project encourages sprawl, hurts the environment and was rushed through in a manner that violates campus policy.

In previous remarks, administration officials said traffic impact will be minimal and 90 percent of the trees near the site will be preserved.

"There is nothing wrong with us building housing on vacant land, which is next to existing housing, when there's a real need for it," UB President William R. Greiner said when asked about the project on his public radio show Sept. 10. "I'm sorry we're in a world where it's always 'not in my back yard.' "

The SUNY Board of Trustees approved the project June 19. The housing is being built on state land, so the university didn't have to go through the local planning process.

The suit claims that the university illegally evaded the state law requiring a review of the project's environmental impact, according to Forman's lawyers, Richard Berger and Francis Amendola. Following state law would require the university to hold a public hearing and to solicit public comment on the impact report, Berger said.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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