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Neighborhood watchdogs achieve a better building for Elmwood Village

Putting residents at ease with the changes occurring along Elmwood Avenue requires the type of community outreach apparent in at least one proposed project that has nearly – but not entirely – won over its strongest critics.

Recently Chason Affinity Companies presented a new plan to put condos on a piece of the Elmwood Strip that extends down from Pano’s restaurant to Forest Avenue. The reaction? Not nearly as raucous.

What transpired was a stark difference from when developers proposed a seven-story, 120-room hotel. That was in 2011, and the memory is still fresh of angry neighbors and a lawsuit that blocked progress on the site. Things have changed.

As reported in The News, Granger Place neighbors had a mostly positive reaction after hearing the details for the first time from Mark Chason, the developer, and Steve Carmina, the architect. Not everyone is entirely sold, of course.

The former plaintiffs and their attorney still believe the project is disproportionately large for Elmwood Village, but the project is far removed from the 2011 vision. Back then, the company had the idea of constructing a hulking hotel building with street-level retail. The angry reaction was swift in coming and a lawsuit was initiated by several residents living behind the proposed development. That lawsuit kept the project in the courts until last December.

Even though the developer was now free to give the hotel a second try, the decision was made to scrap that idea, motivated in part by the fact that more than a dozen hotels have opened in the interim and the Hotel Henry is expected to open in 2018 in the nearby Richardson Olmsted Complex.

The developer, tuning into the escalating interest of millennials, empty nesters and retirees in the “New Buffalo,” decided to focus on condominiums. This new plan could find takers, even though condominiums are rare in Buffalo and even more so in the Elmwood Village.

The condo plan has conditional buy-in, in part because it answered some criticisms of the hotel. The condo building will be down to five stories, with the top two set back to make the building appear smaller.

Susan Davis, part of the unsuccessful lawsuit against the earlier proposal, liked the setbacks and the fact that “it’s condos and not a hotel.” But she remains concerned that it is more suited to parts of Delaware Avenue.

Even Art Giacalone, the attorney in the lawsuit, who still views the project as “too big,” finds it “more aesthetically pleasing” than the earlier proposal.

A public meeting still needs to be held, followed by consideration by the city. If all goes well, construction could start in the spring of 2017 and be completed 14 to 16 months later.

The Elmwood Village’s watchdog residents managed to block a project that didn’t fit the character of the neighborhood. In its place is a building that will bring in new residents and add to the neighborhood.