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Chason Affinity revises Elmwood project

For the second time in recent months, a developer behind a controversial Elmwood Avenue apartment complex has cut the size of the proposed building in an effort to fend off vehement neighborhood criticism and win approval for the project.

Chason Affinity Companies on Monday filed an amended proposal for its mixed-use project at the corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues, which it has dubbed 1111 Elmwood.

The company's goal is to address the concerns expressed by Elmwood Village residents, who loudly opposed the project last year as out of scale with the neighborhood.

A rendering of Chason Affinity Companies' 1111 Elmwood condo project, at Forest Avenue.

"This was something we've been working on for months," said architect Steven Carmina, of Carmina Wood Morris PC. "The end result is something we think is buildable and that the residents see as a compromise position."

The revised plan - which Chason calls its "mitigation design" - cuts the height of the building by one floor, and reduces the number of units by 20 percent from the original 57. It also shrinks the building's width by five feet, increases retail space, and slashes the interior parking component.

A rendering of Chason Affinity Companies' 1111 Elmwood condo project, at Forest Avenue.

Those factors - the height, density and overall size of the building - were among the biggest bones of contention for critics, who complained that the original proposal would not only damage the character of Elmwood but also violate the new Green Code.

"Although the public record... reveals that the project as originally designed enjoys significant support from residents and merchants, particularly those in close proximity to the site, Affinity hereby proposes a mitigation design that is intended to further reinforce its commitment to a project that harmonizes Affinity's goals and objectives with community feedback and the requirements of the newly enacted [Green Code]," attorney Steven J. Ricca of Bond Schoeneck & King wrote in a letter to the Buffalo Planning Board.

A rendering of Chason Affinity Companies' 1111 Elmwood condo project, at Forest Avenue.

The new proposal calls for a four-story building, with 40 condos and three retail spaces of up to 3,500 square feet each on the first floor.

The condos -- of one-, two- and three-bedroom types -- will range in size, starting at about 1,200 square feet.

The individual units will be redesigned, and prices have not yet been set, Chason Affinity Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Birtch said.

The fourth floor steps back 54 feet from the main facade, down from 62 feet, and the building will be 315 feet wide. Uncovered rooftop balconies have been replaced with smaller stacked balconies with a low slope roof, and the roofline has now been changed to distinguish between the condo and retail sections.

A rendering of Chason Affinity Companies' 1111 Elmwood condo project, at Forest Avenue.

A single underground floor of parking will now have 97 spaces, down from 140 on two levels. And there's now a single two-way driveway on Forest, rather than one each on Forest and Elmwood.

"This was a long, exhaustive process," Birtch said. "We think it will address the concerns of the very few people who object. We certainly hope that they feel what we've done is positive."

A rendering of Chason Affinity Companies' 1111 Elmwood condo project, at Forest Avenue.

The new design will still "include architectural elements inspired by local iconic structures that are intended to respect and, in fact, improve the architectural fabric of the neighborhood," Ricca wrote. And the "high-quality, updated classic features" will be constructed of brick, pre-cast concrete and a broader mix of materials that will vary in type and finish at different levels.

"Great care has been given to creating a building design which respects the historic fabric of the neighborhood and adjoining commercial and residential land uses," Ricca wrote.

He noted that the developer "is mindful" of community concerns about the original height and width of the project. And he reiterated that the firm is still pulling back the top floor and tiering the design so that the building gets lower at each end compared to the center. The building will also still have a large fully transparent glass atrium and pocket park in the middle, to break up the facade. Those were also part of the original plan.

At the same time, he argued that forcing the project to adhere to new width requirements in the Green Code would "severely frustrate" the developer's "goal of providing a high-quality, parking-neutral mixed-use building with increased density." The developer already combined 12 parcels into two.

The new plan is slated to be considered by the Planning Board at its May 8 meeting. It also still would need six variances and Common Council approval.

The changes come five months after a fiery public hearing, in which opponents outnumbered supporters by more than two to one.

And it's similar to what Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. was forced to do further south, at Elmwood and Bidwell Parkway, when it temporarily eliminated one of two proposed buildings and cut the height of the second in the face of the same public firestorm.

But Carmina said that wasn't the only reason for the changes, citing cost, demand and "maintaining a certain level of quality in the building that had a direct correlation to density."

"There were many factors that played into the decision to do it. There was no single driving force," he said. "This is a project that consistently and continuously changed, and was modified every time we met with the residents. We listened to some, to those who were objective, and the result is what you see."

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