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Student housing developer scolded by Planning Board

Members of the Buffalo Planning Board rebuked a student housing developer on Monday for belatedly coming back for approval of changes to a West Side project after the building was already completed.

The board acknowledged that it probably would have permitted the changes to Monarch 716 anyway, and did so after the fact on Monday. But they criticized the firm, DHD Ventures, for violating procedures and ignoring City Hall.

"I think we make it abundantly clear to applicants that what we approve is what we expect to be built," said vice chairwoman Cynthia Schwartz, noting that DHD had submitted a "detailed application" when it first sought approval of the project.

Schwartz noted that the building is on the interior of the property and that the change "doesn't have a major impact."

"But the omission of making what is really a major change to this site plan and not coming back to City Hall to clarify what has been done is concerning ... I just think the developer has to be kept on notice," Schwartz said.

Board members also stressed that their retroactive approval was based on the merits of the proposal, not because they didn't have a choice. DHD could not get a certificate of occupancy for the building without the city approval.

"We should make it clear that we're not approving it because they've already done it, but because we think it should be approved," said board member Horace Gioia.

DHD, co-owned by Thomas Masaschi of Rochester and Jason Teller of Charlotte, N.C., developed the new housing complex at 100 Forest Ave., with nine residential apartment buildings and a clubhouse on a former manufacturing property that was cleaned up.

The $25 million project has a total of 176 suites with 592 beds, and is aimed primarily at SUNY Buffalo State students, with some students from other area colleges as well. It's managed by King Residential Group, also from Charlotte.

The clubhouse — which includes a lounge area, two-lane bowling alley and other amenities — as well as the project office, was originally planned as a two-story building with 16,000 square feet. That's the way the Planning Board approved it.

But during the course of construction, the company concluded it didn't really need the second floor for the clubhouse, so it pulled back to just 8,550 square feet on one level, saving money in the process. However, it didn't obtain approval in advance, although officials insisted that they were in discussions with city officials since February.

Corey Auerbach, an attorney at Barclay Damon who represents the developer, admitted the mistake. But he also insisted that it would not be noticeable to outsiders because the building sits in the interior — even though it faces Forest with a clear view from that street.

"We're here, admittedly somewhat hat in hand," he said. "This was not done properly. But this was not the case of doing something without any city involvement. The part that was missed was coming back to you."

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