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City planners OK conversion projects at 2 former church schools

Buffalo city planners on Tuesday gave the green light to a pair of historic renovations of old church school buildings by architect Karl Frizlen, and scheduled a public hearing on plans by LPCiminelli for more than 600 apartments and townhomes at the former Central Park Plaza site on the East Side.

Frizlen, president of Frizlen Group Architects, wants to renovate the three-story former St. Rose of Lima School, a 26,000-square-foot building at 500 Parker Ave. in North Buffalo, into 21 market-rate apartments, with a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units. Rents would range from $900 to $1,200 per month, not including utilities. The St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo own the entire block, Frizlen said, so plans call for purchasing the building from them and carving out 22 parking spaces in back from the existing church parking area.

The building, as a historic landmark, is eligible for state and federal historic tax credits, so the exterior of the building will largely remain as is.

Two community meetings were held, one organized by the church and one by University District Council Member Rasheed Wyatt, with more than 120 people in attendance. “There was a lot of positive input into the project,” Frizlen said. “And I think we did all our due diligence.”

The project faced some opposition from a couple of neighbors over its density, parking and access for disabled individuals. They also expressed concern over what would happen to the church’s parish center in the basement of the school building, which has been used for public meetings and church functions, and is not being converted at this time. Frizlen agreed to personally participate in discussions with the church and Wyatt as needed to address any concerns, and committed to keeping the parish center open for the church’s use a few times a year.

Frizlen also received approval from the Planning Board to convert the three-story former St. Teresa School at 17 Mineral Springs Road into 32 market-rate apartments, with rents ranging from $900 to $1,000 per month. The 42,000-square-foot building in South Buffalo, which dates to at least 1911, sits next to the St. Teresa Church, which is still active.

As with St. Rose, he wants to purchase the school building from the parish and the diocese, along with part of the larger church parking lot about 100 feet away, separated from the school by another building that the church retains. Plans call for 25 parking spaces on that “remote” lot, plus another 12 on the Seneca Street side of the building, for a total of about 37 spots.

This building is also eligible for tax credits, so exterior work again will be limited to repairing and repointing brickwork, as needed, and repairing the roof, but Frizlen also hopes to replace all of the windows with historically accurate replicas, subject to approval. The developer also will put in more landscaping around the building, where there is asphalt now, and along the corner of Seneca and Mineral Springs.

In a separate matter, the Board set a public hearing for April 21 and a deadline of May 8 for public comments on LPCiminelli’s proposed plans for the former Central Park Plaza property, which the developer is naming Highland Park. Attorney Marc Romanowski detailed the firm’s tentative plans to create a mix of four-story apartment buildings, walk-ups and townhouses on the 27-acre property, putting in between 600 and 725 residential units in all. The concept for the Highland Park development calls for the larger, denser apartment buildings at the center, with the buildings shrinking in scale as they fan out toward the existing single-family residential neighborhood around it..