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New plan for condominiums at Elmwood and Forest aims to address concerns

The Elmwood Strip has changed with upscale projects of residences and storefronts.

Now comes the biggest and most far-ranging change.

A five-story brick-and-brownstone building would put 57 high-end townhouse condominiums with ground-floor retail and parking hidden from view on the southeast block of Elmwood Avenue, south of Forest Avenue.

The building would replace 12 structures – nine houses on Elmwood, one that extends into an alley in the back and two more on Forest, which the new building wraps around.

“We have really tried to be sensitive to what is going to work in this particular location,” said Mark Chason, president of Chason Affinity Companies, which is proposing the project. “We think we have come up with a plan that is unique and works within the context of the Elmwood Village.”

Architect Steven Carmina said the project responds to concerns over development in Elmwood Village by setting the top two floors back from the street and incorporating quality materials, classic architectural detailing, sufficient parking, green space and environmental sustainability.

“Our whole approach to this is to make it look to the pedestrian like a three-story building, and not a five-story building,” said Carmina, whose resume includes the Hotel @ The Lafayette, Bethune Lofts and Lafayette Lofts. He is also designing housing at the former A&P Warehouse.

Chason Affinity met Tuesday with residents on nearby Grainger Street, and planned to do the same on Wednesday with residents on Pennhurst Street. A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. July 11 in the Buffalo Seminary atrium. The plan later must be approved by the city zoning and planning boards.

Construction could start in the spring of 2017 and take 14 to 16 months, Chason said.

Delaware Council member Joel Feroleto saw the plans but reserved judgment until residents had a chance to weigh in. He said he appreciated the company sharing its plans first with nearby residents, and thought it addresses a lot of concerns Elmwood Village residents have expressed concerning design, high-quality materials, parking and density.

“You can tell they put in a ton of effort trying to address the concerns,” Feroleto said. “They did their homework.”

Stalled plans

This is the second time Chason Affinity has proposed a big project for the site.

In 2011, the company wanted to build a seven-story building with a 120-room hotel and street-level retail. By then, Chason Affinity had amassed almost all of the property needed for the development.

A lawsuit initiated by several Grainger Street residents living behind the proposed development kept the project in the courts until last December, sending the developer back to the drawing board.

Chason Affinity was free to pursue a hotel again, but decided against it after more than a dozen hotels opened in the interim and with Hotel Henry expected to open in 2018 in the nearby Richardson Olmsted Complex.

Instead, the company set its sights on condominiums, thinking the market was right for attracting young professionals, empty-nesters and retirees. Still, condos are rare in Buffalo, and even rarer in Elmwood Village.

Although Mark Chason said no decisions have been made on how much the condominiums would sell for, the 21 two-level units – most of them occupying the fourth and fifth floors – would be the most desirable.

“I think all the two-level units are upscale, big time,” Carmina said.

Most of the condos will have two parking spaces, with one-bedroom units getting one with an option to pay for a second. Parking will be below grade on one level and partly above-grade on another. There will also be 37 retail parking spaces for the three 2,500-square-foot storefronts.

All the units have patios, and some also have yards.The project – while large by Elmwood Village standards – is about one-third smaller than what was proposed five years ago, and nearly one-third of the complex is for parking and common space.

It’s not the only large project being discussed on Elmwood.

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. is considering building two four- to five-story apartment buildings, and possibly condos, along with retail stores near Bidwell Parkway.

After a series of community meetings, a final design is expected from the architectural firm Hamilton Houston Lownie in about 45 days.

A four-story building that will offer high-end apartments and a large restaurant at W. Delevan Avenue is under construction, and four developers are vying to replace Women & Children’s Hospital with buildings near Bryant Street.

Architectural details

The brick building will appear as two distinct buildings due to design elements including a transparent glass wall, behind which will be common space and an elevator.

The commercial side that is also closest to Forest will have storefronts covered by awnings on the ground floor and a colonnade for shoppers. There will be five brownstones with cast concrete steps – though not the deep stoops usually associated with them – on Elmwood and two on Forest.

A mansard roof, tall windows with transoms, a prominent cornice on the third level, round-top windows, stone pediments and wrought iron railings are among other architectural details.

Materials include brick, Hardie siding for a clapboard look, and a slate look-alike for the mansard, made from recycled materials.

The building’s height – with the fourth and fifth floors stepped back – will scale down to three stories on Forest, and tier lower by Pano’s restaurant and a green-sided parking entrance with a green roof.

It’s one of many green roofs, along with ground-floor plots of land. Environmentally sustainable elements include a berm to store and reuse storm water and the retention of water through the green roofs.

The project was designed with the Green Code in mind, the developers said.

“We spent a lot of time designing the building to fit within the current code and the proposed Green Code, and we think we’ve done that,” said Jeff Birtch, principal with Chason Affinity.

The company also plans to conduct an environmental impact statement, which considers things like traffic and air quality, although it’s not required.

Birtch said three variances for density, floor height and combined residential and commercial zoning will be sought from the zoning board.

Carmina said the building makes sense for the part of Elmwood it would be occupying: near a gas station, the Olmsted Richardson Complex and close to the museum district.

“This is what I would call smart density, and it is what the Green Code was really about, and the reason why it was written,” Carmina said. “It is a smart entrance into the Elmwood District, and much more becoming than what is there now.”