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Gates Circle cleanup is complete

TM Montante Development finished the environmental cleanup of the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital property under state supervision, enabling a sprawling $150 million redevelopment project to move forward on the prominent site, officials reported.

The Department of Environmental Conservation late Wednesday announced the completion of the multi-million-dollar project to remove contamination from the affected parcels at 3 Gates Circle under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program.

Once it receives final approval, the report will be available for public viewing. And as long as Montante continues to comply with the cleanup agreement with the state, the developer would be eligible to receive the brownfield cleanup tax credits to offset qualifying remediation and construction costs, with no future liability to the state for pollution.

According to the summary report, Montante’s crews excavated and disposed of about 1,520 cubic yards of soil that was contaminated with fuel oil, and also dug up and disposed of about 1,090 cubic yards of soil and fill polluted with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and mercury. That enabled the developer to meet the required objectives for residential cleanup.

Montante also placed a cover system of soil, crushed stone, existing asphalt-covered areas and concrete building slabs across the site, with at least a two-foot thickness of soil on top of an orange-mesh “demarcation layer” to separate it from any remaining contamination.

The property also now includes an environmental easement limiting its use to restricted residential, commercial or industrial operations. Montante also instituted a “site management plan” laying out how the remaining contamination will be managed and a separate “excavation work plan” to ensure future activities at the site are “completed in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.” The developer also must certify annually that the institutional and engineering controls are in place and working.

Diverse project

The certification will mark the end of the first stage of converting the former healthcare complex, which was vacated by Kaleida Health after it closed the hospital in 2012.. After a failed first attempt to sell the property, Kaleida awarded the site to Montante, which proposed an ambitious redevelopment of the 6.9-acre property into a new mixed-use community, in conjunction with Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates’ Canterbury Woods.

The project by the two companies will feature more than 500 residential units, including a 58-unit continuing-care senior facility and a blend of market-rate apartments, townhomes and condominiums. Plans also include a fitness club, an urban grocery, ground-floor retail space, and possibly some additional commercial space, spread among multiple buildings.

The new $40 million urban Canterbury Woods, which has 142 people on a waiting list, will have 53 independent-living apartments and five assisted-living units, plus shared tenant space, in a six-story building. It will anchor the overall project and be completely separate from the rest of the Montante project.

“We believe that if it wasn’t for Canterbury Woods, the development of this entire site wouldn’t have moved forward as quickly as it did,” said Episcopal Church Home CEO Rob Wallace. “The focal point has always been Canterbury Woods, because it’s the only thing people have been able to put their fingers on as to what this will look like. We have carried the torch of what this development has been from the beginning.”

Difficult site

The century-old hospital complex first had to be largely demolished and the site cleaned up after a long history, first as residential use and then for tricycle manufacturing in the 19th century before it became a hospital by 1916. Montante hired Ontario Specialty Contracting to take down two buildings manually before imploding the main hospital tower in a dramatic cloud of dust in early October. Then debris had to be removed, and the soil cleared.

Completion of the costly cleanup clears the way for construction. “This is a very unique site, but at the same time, it’s a very, very expensive site to build on,” Wallace said.

However, the project still awaits site plan approval from the Buffalo Planning Board. That’s expected next month, but an initial review on Nov. 17 was met with criticism and opposition from neighbors, who objected to the colors and materials that were proposed for the facade, even after more than eight public meetings.

Wallace noted after that meeting that 80 percent of the 142 people on the waiting list for the new apartments are from the two zip codes in that area, 14209 and 14222, demonstrating local support for the project. Still, he said he wasn’t surprised by the objections and concerns cited by area residents.

“This is an iconic site and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of us, including Canterbury Woods, to get it right,” he said. “Certainly, Canterbury Woods is passionate about doing the right thing for this site.”

He also said that Canterbury Woods has listened to the concerns and tried to be flexible with its design. “We’ve changed colors, we’ve changed materials,” he said. “We’ve shown to this point that we’re open to discussion and looking at all aspects of the building. We’re not always going to agree, but at the end of the day, all of us have the same goal in mind.”