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Elmwood plan calls for upscale apartments, ‘Rocco-themed’ restaurant

A spot where Elmwood Village residents pump gasoline and buy groceries could be transformed by a developer into a place for dining, shopping and upscale living.

Plans were presented to the public Monday night for a four-story, L-shaped building with 21 high-end apartments, a locally operated restaurant and a yet to be specified retailer at Elmwood and West Delavan avenues. Ellicott Development Co. presented the information at a public meeting in the Buffalo History Museum.

The building at 905 Elmwood would replace the Elm-wood-Delavan Food Mart, which also sells gasoline. The proposed 44,000-square-foot building would cost between $8 million and $9 million, and have a modern look dominated by charcoal brick, glass and wood, said Thomas M. Fox, Ellicott’s director of development.

William A. Paladino, the company’s CEO, said the exterior is intended to tie into and enhance the surrounding area.

“I live in the neighborhood, and I think this is an opportunity to clean up a corner that has been an eyesore for a long period of time,” Paladino said. “We think the design of the building, including elements and materials, fits in with the design of the surrounding properties and neighborhood. We have vertically separated the building to look like different buildings.”

Citing the improvement that the development would bring, Fox said, “It’s a hole along Elmwood Avenue, and we want to refresh it and bring something new, bring something with a lot of activity. That will just only feed along Elmwood Avenue with the other businesses and other activity that’s going on.”

The building’s second, third and fourth floors would include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The first floor would consist of 5,000 square feet of restaurant space and 1,500 square feet of retail space.

Parking – about 27 spaces – would be behind the building and also under a portion of the building along West Delavan.

The restaurant, named Gianni’s, would be operated by Henry C. Gorino, former owner of Oliver’s, and Charles F. Mauro, operator of suburban restaurants that include Rocco’s Wood-Fired Pizza in Clarence and 800 Maple in Amherst.

“It will be like a Rocco-themed restaurant,” Paladino said.

Developers will submit an application to the Buffalo Planning Board later this week and present their plans at the Sept. 6 meeting. If they receive approval, they hope to break ground by the end of the year and have the project completed by the end of 2015 or early 2016, Fox said.

Cleaning up the site presents environmental challenges. “We have a brownfield area to clean up. There are a lot of environmental investigations to do, and it’s not yet a done deal.” Paladino said, although he remains confident enough to present the development proposal to the public.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s presentation, some community members expressed concern about the limited amount of parking at the site and potential noise from a large restaurant.

Deborah Williams took issue with the proposed building’s size. “The building is massive,” she said. “Maybe it just looks so big with it so dark and gray that it looks just like a massive, gray box. … It’s going to substantially change the character of the neighborhood.”

Others said any development would be an improvement.

“Well, the renderings look massively better than what’s there,” David Cress said.

Two owners of businesses across the street from the site offered support for the project.

“I think I’m going to be looking forward to looking at this building,” said David Drost, owner of Evolation Yoga.

Said Robert Nehin, who owns BikeorBar, “Elmwood Avenue connects the city, the downtown and the suburbs. It is the byway of commerce in the city. This property … has been a site of drug sales, panhandling. It has been the dregs of the community, and we need to be able to bring commerce and money so people can survive in a city.”

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