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Developer's plans for old library linked to its status as landmark

A developer wants to turn a shuttered library branch on Amherst Street into apartments but says he won't move forward with the project if the city designates the property a local landmark.

David E. Pawlik, a partner in Creative Structures Services of Buffalo, wants to turn the former Fairfield Library at 1659 Amherst into five residential units.

But the city Preservation Board wants to obtain a local historic designation for the property, a process first discussed three years ago.

The future of the property, built in 1897, will be the topic of discussion Wednesday night during a public meeting, scheduled to start at 6 in St. Mary's School for the Deaf, 2253 Main St.

The purpose of the meeting is to gather public input on what should happen with the site, said Common Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, who represents the Masten District, where the property sits.

The former Fairfield Library, at Fairfield Avenue and Amherst Street, has been dormant since 2005 after the Erie County budget crisis.

"We have to do something with it," said Smith, who noted that some homes in the neighborhood around the former library are being sold for more than $100,000.

Monday, Smith said he would not speak to what he would like to see done until the public has a chance to be heard.

Pawlik's plans for the property, which he would call Fairfield Commons and would cost an estimated $800,000, would see four two-bedroom units, a one-bedroom unit and a small office.

However, city lawmakers have the power to grant the landmark status and last year were asked to do so by the Preservation Board.

"If that happens, I'm not interested in moving forward," Pawlik said, adding he would not like to see "another layer" of constraints.

The building will require some asbestos abatement, and a section of the roof has deteriorated and has allowed precipitation inside, Pawlik said.

Historic designation would make the property eligible for tax breaks, said Tim Tielman, a Preservation Board member who said he plans to attend Wednesday's meeting.

The building was designed by renowned architects Green and Wicks, Tielman said.

When it opened, the building was Parkside Unitarian Church, and later became Parkside Evangelical Lutheran Church before the city purchased it in 1924 to turn it into a library, according to the Preservation Board's landmark application.

The 6,300-square-foot property is assessed at $134,700, according to city's Taxation and Assessment Department.

If the city decides not to move ahead with the landmark status, a third-party appraisal would be needed before a sale could be completed, Pawlik said.