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Arts center proposal for church narrowly wins approval

It was a nail-biter worthy of a Hollywood drama until the final vote — but backers of a plan to convert a historic church on Richmond Avenue into a performing arts center finally got the go-ahead.

The Buffalo Planning Board approved Rachel Heckl's proposal to renovate the Richmond-Ferry church into the Rosanna Elizabeth Visual and Performing Arts Center after 70 minutes of debate.

Members hesitated over the three-story height of an accompanying new apartment building and the demolition of an adjacent house that is part of a historic district. They wanted to consider alternatives and see financial data supporting Heckl's arguments.

Four members voted in favor — the minimum needed to pass — while Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz was against. Schwartz criticized Heckl's team for inconsistencies and changes in their presentation and didn't like the building height or demolition.

Board member Andrew Malcolm agreed but said saving the church was more important, and cast the deciding vote.

Neighbors Derek Bateman and Heather Connors, who fought the plan, said they were considering a lawsuit.

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