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Paid parking lot on Elmwood nixed by Zoning Board

Parking can be a challenge on Elmwood Avenue, but that wasn’t enough to persuade residents – or the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals – to support a commercial lot proposed for the street.

A vacant lot at 880 Elmwood Ave., between Lafayette and West Delavan avenues, has been empty since a three-story rental home on the site burned down in 2014. Property owner Kevin Barry considered building town homes on the lot, but it would cost more than he could afford, he told the Zoning Board. So he wanted to pave the property and put in a parking lot for the time being, until he’s able to redevelop the property in the future.

But the Zoning Board this week voted unanimously to deny Barry’s request, after a handful of residents objected to the plan.

The property is zoned for retail or residential use, and Barry didn’t show any valid reasons the property could not be developed under the current zoning, the board ruled.

Barry’s plans called for a 16-space, paid parking lot on the 38-by-180 foot parcel, with a brick wall buffer, a sculpture created by a local artist, a black aluminum fence, landscaping and bench seating.

An architect working with Barry said the metered lot would help alleviate the parking crunch in the area, benefiting retailers, restaurants, other businesses and residents. The rate would have been the same as other off-street metered parking, and monthly rates might have been offered.

Neighbors, including five who addressed the Zoning Board, didn’t like the idea.

"This is not a permitted use," said Gretchen Cercone, president of the Lancaster Avenue Block Club. "There are no commercial lots in that vicinity."

"I don’t believe that the parking is that lacking in this neighborhood," Richard McClenahan of Ashland Avenue added.

 Catherine Faust of Elmwood Avenue said Barry’s plan is not within the spirit of the Green Code, the new zoning document the city recently adopted.

"This use is not permitted under the Green Code. The intention on Elmwood is not to see parking lot development but commercial use development," Faust said.

Private, paid parking lots just don’t exist along Elmwood Avenue, said Alan Gerstman of Norwood Avenue, adding that "this project adds a use that never existed under prior zoning and is clearly prohibited under current zoning."

Residents also said that Barry didn’t prove financial hardship – one possible criteria for a zoning variance.

Barry responded that he looked at developing townhouses on the site but the price was prohibitive and that he would have to build "tiny" townhouses. He later said he could provide financial data to back up his claim.

But Zoning Board officials said the variance Barry requested requires a financial hardship associated with developing the land, not with the developer’s ability to raise money.

Buffalo News reporter Jonathan Epstein contributed to this report.

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