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Chason project at Elmwood and Forest clears final hurdle

Mark Chason and Joe Dash had a good night on Monday.

Both had major real estate development projects approved by the city Planning Board, after many months of contentious uncertainty while battling to overcome opposition from some community members.

Chason finally surmounted the last major hurdle for his controversial $30 million project on Elmwood Avenue, following a 90-minute public hearing in Common Council chambers.

Planning Board members essentially said they had heard enough of the pros and cons, and unanimously voted in favor of the project -- even while acknowledging the community concerns over it.

"It's different. It's a change, but it's a change for the better," said board member Horace Gioia, a longtime resident of the Elmwood Village. "I think Elmwood Village is great. I love it. But I think it can be better. I don't think anything stays the same. We all change. We live differently. We think differently. Elmwood needs to change with the times."

That sentiment was echoed by three others on the board.

Martha Lamparelli called it "a wonderful addition to that segment of Elmwood Avenue," and praised the developer for reaching out to the community and adjusting the project along the way.

Cynthia Schwartz, the board's vice chair, said the current design "is vastly better" than the previous five-story proposal. She rejected a frequent argument from opponents that the building is far too large in length along Elmwood, saying that it's only because the developer created significant parking underground and made it effectively invisible, addressing a frequent concern in that area.

"The argument about massing is a little specious," said Schwartz, a 37-year Elmwood Village resident. "What you see from Elmwood is really, for all intents and purposes, two large new buildings."

Chason Affinity revises Elmwood project

Chason, who has been seeking to build on the site for eight years with various iterations, said he was "definitely pleased with the results."

The project still needs some city permits and other "minor approvals," Chason said, but Planning and Zoning were the "major approvals." He hopes to start demolition work in late September, followed by new construction shortly afterwards, with completion 16 to 18 months later.

"We were hopeful," he said. "We have worked really hard on this project, but it's always great when it's over."

He has filed preliminary paperwork with the state Attorney General for approval, a necessary step before he can start selling units. That process could take a couple of months.

"They're not for sale yet, but I know there are a lot of people who can't wait," Chason said.

The road ahead

But opponents aren't done yet.

Attorney Richard Lippes, a member of the city's Preservation Board, is filing an Article 78 lawsuit against the city next month in State Supreme Court on behalf of two project neighbors, Sandra Girage and Susan Davis. Daniel Sack, one of the project's most vocal critics, said the lawsuit will accuse the city of breaking its own code by approving "extreme variances" and not requiring Chason to obtain other variances.

Chason Affinity plans to demolish nine buildings on Elmwood Avenue and two on Forest Avenue to construct a four-story, brick-and-brownstone building with a mixture of one, two- and three-bedroom units and three retail storefronts. The units would be 1,100 to 2,300 square feet in size. Prices have not yet been determined.

The project, which was downsized from five stories and 57 condos, also would include 97 underground parking spaces.

The project faced heavy opposition from people in the community who argued that it didn't belong in Elmwood Village because it was out of scale with the neighborhood. They asserted that its height and 315-foot length along Elmwood violated the Green Code -- even after the Zoning Board of Appeals this month granted variances to permit it.

But, it benefited from tremendous support from others. They contended that it would bring much needed vibrancy to that part of Elmwood, drawing new residents and businesses to a stretch of the street that had languished for years.

Both sides turned out in force at Monday's meeting, with each speaker getting loud applause from the crowd.

Approval for Dash's

Joe Dash can finally start construction on a new supermarket on Hertel Avenue, after his project got the last major approval it needed on Monday.

The Planning Board unanimously approved the plan for a new Dash's Market at 1764 Hertel Ave., largely clearing the way for work to begin after receipt of normal permits.

The $12 million to $15 million project, which was previously reviewed by the Planning Board two weeks ago, already received nine necessary variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month.

Dash now hopes to start demolition by late August or early September, to get a shovel in the ground by late September or early October, and to have the new store open by late summer of next year.

Dash's on Hertel gets positive reception at Planning Board

"I think it'll be great not only for Hertel but for North Buffalo," Dash said prior to the board's meeting. "I've been working on this a long time. It'll be great to see it come to fruition."

Dash plans to construct a 47,550-square-foot store on the northeast corner of the intersection with Starin Avenue.

The design, by architectural firm Wendel Companies, envisions a two-story building that looks like it was built decades ago to meld with the community.

The new store would include a 32,000-square-foot first-floor retail portion, with 15,500 square feet upstairs for an open eating area, office, community room and virtual office space that would be available for rent by the community. The store, which sits on 1.46 acres, would employ 40 full-time and 75 part-time workers.

In response to comments at public hearings and the Zoning Board, Dash and his developers modified plans slightly, adding more islands in the parking lot with six additional trees while reducing the number of parking spaces from 78 to 74. And they reduced the height of the building by three feet, to 37.5 feet.

They also added more windows along Hertel and introduced decorative architectural features along both Hertel and Starin. Plans also call for reprinting on the facade a 1924 city map that will pinpoint the locations of Dash stores over time.

Board members determined the changes were not significant enough to warrant a new public hearing.

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