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New architect scales back plan for apartments at bell tower site

The church bell tower is still standing tall at Colvin and Tacoma avenues in North Buffalo, but the apartment complex that will be built around it will be smaller than originally planned.

A proposal for 40 apartments on the site of the former North Park Baptist Church is being scaled down by the project’s new architect to ensure that it better fits the property and the neighborhood.

Niagara Falls-based Apollo Dismantling Services LLC and Sutton Architecture of Williamsville are still planning a three-story apartment complex with the prominent bell tower incorporated as a beacon.

But now the project will have only 29 market-rate apartments in 30,000 square feet of total space. The footprint of the complex also has been reduced by 60 percent, so that the building will not be so close to a neighboring house and there will be enough parking on site to assuage neighbors’ concerns about spillover.

“It’s mostly because of a lot of input from this board and neighboring properties,” said principal David J. Sutton. “It’ll be a better project to be managed for the neighborhood and for my clients.”

The one- and two-bedroom apartments will range in size from 667 square feet to 1,308 square feet. The cost of the revised proposal has not been determined, but Sutton said he anticipated it would be about $3 million. Construction can begin as soon as the city approves it, with a goal of finishing by spring 2016.

The original Bell Tower Lofts project was approved by the Buffalo Planning Board more than a year ago, in January 2014, but the new proposal is so different that board members called for a new public hearing and review on June 2. Sutton, which replaced the original architect on the project, was hired after that initial approval was granted, but later concluded that the project as conceived was simply too big, based on a review of the significant volume of concerns from neighbors and community members, as well as an analysis of how it would function.

“It’ll be warmly received by the neighbors,” said Planning Board member Cynthia Schwartz. “I like the look. It works rather nicely.”

The original plan included three buildings, including one at the corner and one with parking underneath a raised courtyard between buildings. Other parking was sandwiched between the structures, based on a model used in the Mayfair Lane project in Allentown.

But the fit was too tight for the site, Sutton said, citing the traffic pattern but also the proximity of one of the structures to a neighbor. Because the neighbor’s house sits right on the property line, only 10 feet would have separated the two buildings.

With the new design, that gap has been expanded to 50 feet, providing more of a buffer between property lines. The smaller footprint also means more parking spaces for fewer units. The parking will be gated and secure, Sutton said.

And the square bell tower – which is not really usable with its 13-foot sides – will be preserved as “a major architectural anchoring device, not only for the building but for the neighborhood.”

The Planning Board also gave its assent to a three-story, 40-unit senior housing project at 240 Kensington Ave., on the city’s East Side, on a brownfield parcel.

The proposal by Sinatra & Company Realty and CSS Construction calls for using 2.5 acres of the 6.16-acre property, which formerly housed the Hewitt Robins crushing and vibrating equipment manufacturing plant before it was demolished. The site, which is currently owned by the city, already has been accepted into the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, with an estimated $450,000 of cleanup and soil excavation needed to bring the property to residential standards. Benchmark Environmental Engineering & Science LLC and affiliate TurnKey Environmental Restoration, LLC will handle the remediation.

The $5.2 million project includes eight one-bedroom units with 825 square feet and 30 two-bedroom apartments with 950 square feet, with one elevator and no basement. Some would be market-rate, while others would be for low-income residents.

The Planning Board also approved the city’s revised plans to enclose the existing covered patio next to The Hatch eatery at the harbor to create a new higher-end restaurant and bar space for banquets or parties, with a separate kitchen and brick pizza oven. Work can begin immediately on the $900,000 project, which is slated for completion by October, and would be open year-round, said architect Elizabeth Reilly-Meegan of DiDonato Associates.