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People Inc. seeks support for Gates Circle senior housing proposal

Officials at People Inc. are working to address concerns raised by the Buffalo Preservation Board and a neighborhood group before proceeding with its proposed mixed-income senior housing project at Gates Circle.

Architects have tweaked elements of the proposal, following discussions with the Linwood Preservation District & Friends and after a rough reception a week ago at the Preservation Board, said People Inc. Housing Director Jocelyn Bos.

The agency does not expect to be ready by next week, but hopes to return to the board for approval on Nov. 10.

“We’re going to come back and try to address some of the concerns,” Bos said. “We’re trying to be good neighbors, and we’ll continue to make modifications to the best of our ability.”

The Amherst-based nonprofit social-services agency wants to construct a 39-unit apartment building at 637 Linwood Avenue in Buffalo, aimed at meeting the growing need for aging-in-place housing in the city.

Plans by architect Matthew Long show the three-story building would consist of 34 one-bedroom units and five two-bedroom apartments, with 39 parking spaces, plus greenspace. The apartments are intended for seniors aged 55 and over, with incomes ranging from 30 percent to 130 percent of the area median, or $16,000 to $75,000.

The 1.1-acre property, a former hospital parking lot at the southeastern corner of Linwood and Lafayette avenues,  is located across the street from the larger 6.9-acre former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital. It also includes 907 and 911 Lafayette. All of the properties are owned by TM Montante Development, which acquired them from Kaleida Health as part of an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment project dubbed Lancaster Square at Gates Circle.

But the $11.4 million project ran headlong into resistance from members of the Linwood group, who are keen to maintain the historic character and feel of the neighborhood. The Preservation Board reinforced their concerns.

Bos said People Inc. has presented its proposal three times to the Gates Circle Advisory Committee and already met with about 25 to 30 members of the Linwood group at the Unity Church on Delaware. Neighbors cited a desire for the new project to look more like individual homes rather than a single large monolithic building.

So officials are modifying the façade to make the new building design less imposing and more consistent with the neighborhood, setting back portions of it to separate them and give the appearance of distinct structures. “We’re trying to match some of the existing architectural designs in the community, so we’re breaking the linear line,” Bos explained.

They’ve also added bushes, “rain gardens” and other landscaping, changed the roof from flat to residential-style, and reduced the number of units being contemplated from 42 originally, she said. The agency will also put in benches along Linwood, and it’s considering a Preservation Board request to create “social spaces” like porches or balconies along Linwood, Bos added.

Finally, the agency has agreed to help upgrade a playground on the corner of Oxford and Lafayette – outside the project site – that Bos said is the only playground in the entire area. “It’s not something we would need in a senior, mixed-income group, but it’s a commitment to the community,” she said.

Bos said officials want to meet again with the Linwood group to review the changes before returning to the board. No zoning variances are needed, but the project will also go before the Planning Board for approval on Dec. 5.

If approved, construction would start in September or October of next year, followed by a year of work before it opens. The effort would be financed through state Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, money from New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Housing Trust Fund Corp. and city of Buffalo HOME funds.

“We just keep modifying, and hopefully we’ll be able to strike a compromise to the best of our ability, for both the historical preservation board and the Linwood group,” Bos said. “We will continue to work with the groups to do the best we can.”


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