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Elmwood hotel project approved Final design requires Planning Board OK

The Common Council cleared the way Tuesday for construction of the first hotel on the Elmwood strip, a vote that was assailed by some residents who are contemplating legal action.

Lawmakers unanimously authorized a rezoning of properties at the corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues. While the Planning Board must approve a final design, city officials viewed Tuesday's vote as the pivotal action.

Mayor Byron W. Brown told The Buffalo News he supports plans to build a $7 million, 72-room Wyndham Hotel. Savarino Construction Services Corp. plans to tear down five properties on the site, now occupied by businesses and residential tenants.

"This is dirty dealing, Buffalo-style," said Nancy Pollina, a business owner who would be displaced by the project. "This was pushed through even though there are still a lot of serious questions."

Not true, insisted Eva M. Hassett, Savarino's vice president for strategic initiatives. "There is nothing hidden about this project. We've been very open from the beginning," she said.

Hassett noted that design plans have been subjected to intense public scrutiny and even revised as a result of feedback from the public. The original plan called for an 80-room, five-story hotel.

The revised plan for a four-story building has been endorsed by Forever Elmwood, a coalition of residents and homeowners.

But others insist the city has ignored the impact the project will have on the neighborhood. Karen Arrison, who owns property on Lincoln Parkway a couple of blocks from the site, said the project should be subjected to a review by state historic preservation officials given its proximity to the landmark H.H. Richardson Complex and the Olmsted park system.

Arrison and others believe a more thorough review of the project's environmental impact should be performed. "Maybe this is an opportunity to get a great development on this property, but there are still some issues that have gone unanswered," Arrison said.

Pollina said some people have been discussing possible legal action. But a court challenge would cost money, and she conceded that resources have yet to be identified.

Hundreds of people have signed petitions to try to stop the project. Some worry about traffic congestion and parking problems. Others claim the hotel would be incompatible with the neighborhood's ambience.

"This is a major gateway, and it deserves better than this," said Pollina, who has operated Don Apparel at 1119 Elmwood for nearly 14 years.

But Brown thinks the project would be a welcome addition to the Elmwood strip. "They came in with a good concept. It's a design that embraces the urban community that the hotel would be located in," he said.

Opponents have questioned the logic of building a hotel when some downtown hotels are struggling. Developers countered that the smaller Wyndham project would be more of a "boutique" hotel that would not compete with larger hotels.

In other action Tuesday:

* The Council took steps to ensure metered parking in downtown Buffalo is free on Saturdays. There has been confusion over weekend parking regulations in the central business district. The city is also in the process of expanding the boundaries for free Saturday metered parking to other downtown streets, including the area of the Buffalo Niagara Medical campus.

* Lawmakers supported a resolution asking federal and state officials to review the feasibility of building presidential libraries for Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore in the H.H. Richardson complex.


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