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Parking needs delay Hispanics United senior housing proposal

Hispanics United is eager to build its La Plaza senior housing community to meet the growing needs on Buffalo's West Side.

But first it may need to figure out the parking.

The nonprofit agency, which provides a mix of social, medical and housing services for its clients, wants to erect a three-story building at 253 Virginia St., with 46 units of affordable housing aimed at frail or disabled seniors. The ground floor would include some storefront space, while the basement would offer tenant amenities and support space.

"We are envisioning a walkable community design," David Rodriguez, director of housing and project management for the nonprofit, told the Buffalo Planning Board on Monday.

The proposed project would be constructed close to the property lines on Virginia and West streets, with a courtyard in the back and a parapet on the roof to hide mechanical units. The design would feature brick, as well as bay windows, according to architect Bob Shephard of Stieglitz Snyder Architecture.

"We very much try to conceive a design that fits well into the neighborhood, especially this section of the West Side," Shephard said. "A three-story apartment building also seems to be very typical and in character with the neighborhood."

A look from street level at the proposed Hispanics United senior housing project on Virginia Street, dubbed La Plaza.

Some neighbors, however, are concerned about parking.

Marcelino Hernandez Jr. noted that Virginia Street leads to the Niagara Thruway, and the neighborhood around it is already very crammed, with traffic backing up and little room for parking. He is concerned it's only going to get worse with this new project.

"It's a nice concept, but one of the major flaws that's going to impact me and every other resident of the area is there's no parking," Hernandez said. "Where are they going to put the visitors that come there, the ambulances that respond there?"

It's even more difficult in the winter, when cars can't pass and plows can't get through, he added. "I don't oppose the project, but it's a huge problem that they have to address," Hernandez said. "Fix the parking problem."

Rodriguez acknowledged the concerns as "valid." He said Hispanics United, which already operates facilities in the neighborhood, knows it has to address the problem of parking for its own staff.

The nonprofit is looking at acquiring several nearby properties for possible use for parking, and is also exploring alternative sites outside of the neighborhood from which it could shuttle employees, Rodriguez said. Officials have been meeting with neighbors to discuss options and "work through concerns," he said.

That wasn't enough for Planning Board members, who wanted to hear specific solutions. "We need more than 'there are discussions underway.' We need to know more about what is going to happen," said Cynthia Schwartz. "The lower West Side is very tight. Whether you live there or work there, parking is a crunch."

The Board tabled the project, which still needs zoning variances anyway.

The Planning Board also tabled Mt. Aaron Baptist Church's proposed Mt. Aaron Village affordable-housing community, which also needs several zoning variances. That project – which follows the success of the church's 10-unit Mt. Aaron Manor – calls for a senior apartment building with 50 one-bedroom apartments and 16 two- and three-bedroom townhomes for families on 19 vacant parcels at 695 Genesee St.

"This is what the community asked for. This is what the community wishes," said Pastor Dwayne Jones. "The last project was very successful. I know that this project will be an even greater success.

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