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Proposal for church advances

A proposal to turn a former Payne Avenue church into a campus with housing for veterans and homeless youth may face opposition from nearby residents, a member of the city Planning Commission predicted Tuesday night.

The plans, proposed by Orchard Park-based United Church Home Society, involve the four buildings on the site of the former St. Joseph Catholic Church, 1451 Payne.

The proposal requires a zoning change for the property, which consists of a former church, rectory, school and convent. Final approval for a zoning change lies with the Common Council, which must hold a public hearing on the matter prior to making a decision.

"This is nothing like a church," said Commissioner David Burgio, who added he was apprehensive about the variety of clientele to be served on the single site.

While telling organization representatives he compliments them for their work, he said the project "may be out of character totally" with the existing neighborhood.

The commission voted, 6-1, to recommend the Common Council approve the zoning change, though there should be a reliance on public input and the facility should be used as outlined to the commission, members said. Burgio was the lone commission member to vote against making the recommendation.

Carol C. Halter, director of development for the not-for-profit organization, told the commission there would be no changes to the exterior of any of the buildings.

Plans call for the former rectory to house six to 12 homeless male youth in 2010 as the project's first phase. The second part calls for the convent to include 10 bedrooms in the spring of 2011.

The former school building would be turned into 17 single-occupancy apartments for veterans, while the church will have eight handicapped-accessible units on the first floor and a community center in the basement by the fall of 2011.

The housing for veterans will be subsidized by the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Halter said.

Plans are also being considered to build market-rate senior housing on the site in 2013, she said.

Young, homeless males who would live here would be voluntary participants between ages 16 and 21, have no history of severe chronic alcohol or drug addiction and no history of violence or severe mental illness, the organization said. The program includes an educational component, including GED classes and other life skills training.

The convent would house and provide services to young women, ages 16 to 21, who may have children.

The model that would be implemented here has worked successfully in other parts of the country, Halter added.

The organization has a contract to purchase the site from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. The deal is contingent upon obtaining the zoning change, said Daniel G. Tronolone, attorney for the United Church Home Society.

When the Council holds its public hearing, notice will be mailed to all residents who live within 500 feet of the property, Assistant City Attorney Robert Sondel said.


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