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Condo, townhome project proposed for last Waterfront Village site

The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency on Thursday awarded Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. the exclusive rights to develop the last remaining residential parcel in the Waterfront Village area with a 30-unit condo and townhome project.

Ciminelli’s $19.5 million proposal for the 2.4-acre property at 240-260 Lakefront Blvd. was given preferred status, effectively giving it exclusive rights to develop the land, which it will buy from BURA for $2.2 million.

But it’s not a done deal yet. Conceptual plans call for a four-story “mid-rise” building with 15 to 20 units and 10 three-story townhomes that would be set back 100 feet from the water, along with a potential outdoor swimming pool, south of the current tennis courts. The townhomes would be built in a “traditional arrangement,” with rear entrances on Lakefront and access from Ojibwa Circle, said Ciminelli Executive Vice President Dennis Penman.

Tentatively, the units would sell for an average of about $650,000, and range from $500,000 to $750,000, Penman said. The mid-rise units would be traditional condos of 2,500 to 3,000 square feet, with underground parking, while the three-story townhouses would be 2,800 to 2,900 square feet, with attached two-car garages.

The project now must be approved by the Buffalo Common Council, which will take it up in February with a likely vote in March, and then by the city Planning Board, likely in July after Ciminelli signs a contract.

Community meetings and at least one public hearing will be scheduled. Also, the sales offering materials must be finalized and approved by the state attorney general, “so there’s a lot of road ahead of us,” Penman said.

If all approvals are granted, construction would most likely begin in March 2016, he said. “I could see people living in some of the space in summer 2016,” he said. “Not all of it, but incrementally.”

Penman said the condos are being designed for people who have already lived in the Waterfront Village area, perhaps in larger townhomes, but are now ready to downsize to a one-floor unit. Already, he said, Ciminelli has 10 “active, realistic interested parties” to buy units.

The project received a letter of support from Waterfront Village residents, who are generally in favor of the plan, but they still have concerns about some specifics. Frank M. Lysiak, executive director of the Waterfront Village Advisory Council, which represents residents, said the group wants to ensure it has an opportunity to work with Ciminelli in the final design and planning process to address those issues.

Residents want to maintain the view looking out toward Lake Erie, and they are worried that the building heights could block that. Lysiak and other residents noted that the existing structures are generally no more than three stories tall, while the planned new mid-rise building would be four stories.

The group also wants to preserve the promised 100-foot setback of that larger building from the water. And they’re concerned about the increased density on the site, Lysiak said.

Others are opposed to the development, particularly residents in the Breakwaters complex across Lakefront. Lawrence Cataldi, an attorney and Breakwaters resident, said that group’s 95 members are “not happy with a proposal shoved down people’s throats,” and called the size, scope and lack of greenspace “totally off the wall.”

The city and Ciminelli are seeking to benefit from the popularity of the waterfront area, which has picked up with the renewed activity in downtown and especially in Canalside. Buffalo General Medical Center surgeon and real estate investor Dr. Fadi Dagher has acquired three office buildings at Waterfront Village in the past couple of years, and resales of condo units have increased, with prices roughly in the range that Ciminelli set for its new units.

“The interest in people living in Buffalo, working in Buffalo, owning businesses in Buffalo, is off the charts right now, and we’re just trying to capitalize positively on this historic window of opportunity that we have right now,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.

This is the latest step in Brown’s efforts to push land held by the city or renewal agency into the hands of private evelopers, as part of his goal of building 1,300 new housing units downtown by 2018. The Lakefront property has been in BURA’s hands since the 1980s but prior efforts to develop it have fallen through. A 2008 proposal by McGuire Development Co., R&P Oak Hill Development and a group of doctors called for an eight-story condo building with 18 units and eight two-story townhouses, but the 26-unit project – dubbed Casa Luce – never came to fruition.

Thursday’s vote caps a new process started last summer, when BURA issued a request for proposals for the property to over 150 local, national and international developers. Only two entities submitted final proposals. Ciminelli’s project beat a rival proposal from a combined team of McGuire Development Group and Impacto Consulting, which called for a six-story mid-rise building with 30 units and 10 to 12 townhomes set back 50 feet from the water.

Both proposals were well-received by BURA, city leaders and the Waterfront group. But Ciminelli was the higher bidder. And the Waterfront residents made their preference clear for Ciminelli’s proposal, which fit better with the existing structures and architecture.