Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. has reduced the height of its proposed Reverie project on Elmwood by another three feet and now plans to renovate – not demolish – a second building on the site, as it seeks to overcome community opposition.
The Amherst-based developer said Wednesday that it has now reduced the overall height of the proposed building from 67 feet to 50 feet and 3 inches. It already reduced the number of floors from the original five to four when it revised the project in January.
That's still 75 inches higher than the new Green Code's 44-foot maximum height and three-story limit for the Elmwood Village. So Ciminelli will still need a zoning variance for the project before it can go forward.
Plans call for the building to include apartments, retail space and parking, with a facade consisting of brick and other traditional materials to stay consistent with the neighborhood.
The changes come as Ciminelli officials prepare to face the community again Thursday night at a public information meeting sponsored by Delaware District Councilmember Joel Feroleto. The meeting – at which Council Majority Leader David A. Rivera will also facilitate – will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, 695 Elmwood Ave.
The meeting will start with a 10-minute presentation by Frank Armento of Fisher Associates, the consultant who worked with the city to develop the Green Code. He will discuss in general the process that new development projects must now follow. Paul Ciminelli, the developer's CEO, will also speak, followed by presentations on the Reverie project itself by attorney Adam Walters and HHL Architects' Matt Meier. Then a one-hour question-and-answer session will be held.
"There have been ongoing changes as the review process continues and we receive feedback," Walters said. "We're hopeful that some of these changes satisfy some of the concerns that have been expressed, but the whole idea is to gain additional feedback based on where the project is now."
For example, he said, the firm previously yielded months ago to community pressure to save as many of the existing structures as possible. It agreed to preserve the Skate Shop building, as well as a two-story apartment building at 588 Potomac Ave., just across the street. However, those changes to the original concept were made last year, not recently.
"We were originally planning to demolish that structure, but it will now be rehabilitated," said Walters.
“Many of these folks support our proposal, others disagree with various aspects of the design, and some have questions about the basic details of the development,” Ciminelli said. “The feedback received thus far has certainly been constructive and focused on the context of the project within the Elmwood District, as well as on certain aspects of Green Code compliance."
Ciminelli in November unveiled plans for a $40 million project on Elmwood Avenue, consisting of two distinct five-story buildings at the corners of Bidwell Parkway and Potomac Avenue. The initial plan, dubbed Arbor + Reverie, called for nearly 100 condominiums and apartments, eight retail storefronts and a three-level parking structure.
That proposal required the demolition of existing structures located on 11 properties the developer acquired for $7.9 million from longtime owners Donald and Lori Leone. That, combined with the proposed height of the two buildings, drew a firestorm of opposition from the neighborhood and politicians, especially amid growing controversy in general over development in the Elmwood Village.
The battle escalated when neighbors and the Preservation Board began seeking to block the project, prompting Ciminelli representatives to threaten to seek demolition permits immediately. Instead, the developer backed down, announcing in January that it would withdraw its demolition applications, put off the Arbor proposal entirely, and reduce the scale of Reverie to four stories.
More recently, Walters said, officials dropped the height of the building further because the state building code required one of the two parking levels to be underground.
Additionally, the developer reduced the height of each of the remaining levels.
"We've heard continuing feedback that the height of the building is a concern," Walters said. "By getting it to 50 feet, it's only six to seven feet above the peaks of the roofs of surrounding houses. It helps address some of the scale concerns we were hearing from people."
Officials also redesigned the two parking levels so that each has a separate entrance from the outside, restoring some parking spaces that had been lost when plans called for the two levels to be connected.
"It just allows us to continue to honor that feedback we were receiving about parking," Walters said.