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Neighbors object to height of apartments planned for Hertel

A proposal to construct a five-story apartment building with retail space and underground parking at the intersection of Hertel and Parkside avenues has stirred anger in the North Buffalo neighborhood because its height would exceed city limits.

John and Ruth Ann Daly, through O'Dalaigh Real Estate, want to build the 32-unit apartment complex on the site of a longtime former gas station at 1585 Hertel Ave.

Plans by Trautman Associates – where John Daly is a managing principal – call for six storefronts on the first floor, with apartments above on the second, third and fifth floors. The third-floor apartments include a mezzanine or loft level, creating an extra floor in between.

The building would be 58.4 feet high – in excess of what is permitted under the city's Green Code, which limits the height of buildings in that area to three stories or 44 feet. So the couple has sought a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

But some neighbors say the project is too big and doesn't fit with the character of the neighborhood. They also say it would generate too much additional traffic and would create parking problems in the neighborhood, even with the indoor spaces the Dalys plan to include.

"The whole neighborhood is going to be affected," said Linda Ryan, who lives on Parkside less than a block away from the proposed site. She called the project "bigger than it's supposed to be."

"To build something this large on a lot this small is not sensible," said Bruce Heatley, who lives next door to Ryan on Parkside. Including the elevator tower and other rooftop extensions, the building is 68 feet tall, he noted. "It's too big of a project to put in too small of a place."

The Dalys say they need the extra apartments and height to generate more revenues, offsetting the high cost per-square-foot of the remediation under the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program, including the removal of four underground gas tanks. For the same reason, they also want the project to take up the entire lot, without putting in any greenspace or landscaping. The Green Code requires at least 10 percent greenspace.

"The variances are being requested to help mitigate the cost of the environmental clean-up that was created over decades of use by previous owners," the Dalys wrote in their application to the Zoning Board.

The city board will consider the request on Wednesday, but Ryan and Heatley are urging the board to reject the application.

"Why is he entitled to do this and bypass the Green Code? It was put into place to keep our neighborhood a certain aesthetic. It's not supposed to go past three stories," Ryan said.

The new project is the latest skirmish in the battle between neighborhoods and developers over the Green Code, particularly related to its three-story height limit in neighborhoods like Parkside-Hertel and the Elmwood Village. That restriction was put in place at the insistence of residents, who said they wanted to preserve the historic character and village feel of their neighborhoods and prevent large-scale projects they feared would damage their quality of life.

Residents fought hard earlier this year to block Chason Affinity's four-story condominium building at Elmwood and Forest avenues, but ultimately lost after the Zoning Board granted necessary variances and the Planning Board approved the project. Another four-story project, by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., is still pending, but has been in limbo while the developer works to redesign it to address neighborhood concerns.

In this case, the 0.175-acre property had been a gas station for at least two decades but the 1,517-square-foot building has been unoccupied and dormant for at least eight years. It was constructed in 1950, according to city records.

"Something needs to be done with the corner. There's no two ways about it, and I doubt anyone would object to that," said Heatley, who has lived in his home for 38 years. "But too many appear to have the view that anything is better than nothing. I disagree."

The Dalys' proposal shows a building with red brick, white stone and gray vertical panels, as well as bronze accent panels to highlight the storefronts and protruding portions of the building above them. That change in material and color, along with the step-back, is designed to minimize the building's scale and height, according to their application to the Zoning Board.

Heatley is among the neighbors who object to its appearance.

"It's a hideous-looking thing," Heatley said.

The developers also say in their application the building height won't harm the neighborhood because it doesn't impact any adjacent property and most of the block is already four stories high, including a senior apartment building next door. They plan to offset the lack of landscaping on the ground by putting in a "green" roof that would double the 10 percent minimum threshold.

"We are trying to design our building to balance and complement the existing tall structures on either side of the site," Daly said by email. "We believe with a sensitive design, keeping in scale with those elements, we can bring balance to those elements and better complete the streetscape."

Parking is a major concern for the neighbors. The plan shows 12 parking spaces underneath, but Ryan said that's "not going to be adequate" for the tenants, their guests and shoppers. She and Heatley noted that it's already difficult to find spaces, with four popular restaurants nearby on Hertel that draw crowds but don't have their own parking.

"We live there. We have to park on that street," Ryan said. "We just can't handle it."


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