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Hispanics United gets go-ahead for Virginia Street senior housing

Hispanics United will finally get to build its new senior-housing project on Buffalo's West Side.

After several months of hearings and revisions, the Buffalo Planning Board backed the nonprofit group's proposal, in conjunction with Acacia Inc., to construct the 46-unit La Plaza Senior Residences on four parcels of vacant residential land on Virginia Street.

The properties, totaling 0.56 acres, are bounded by West, Virginia and 10th streets, but would be officially located at 253 Virginia.

The 60,000-square-foot project - designed by Stieglitz Snyder Architects and Tredo Engineers - would consist of a three-story building and basement. It would feature two floors of affordable senior apartments - including 14 specifically aimed at frail or disabled seniors, funded through the state's Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative.

The building will consist of two wings connected by a central lobby on the main floor, with two elevators, a stairwell and the main entry. All of the units will be one-bedroom apartments, with 10 on the first floor and 18 each on the second and third floors.

The ground floor would include some commercial retail storefront space, while the full basement would offer tenant amenities and support space. Hispanics United plans to relocate its senior day care program from its current site to the new building.

New landscaping and street trees are also included, plus an outdoor plaza in back "to allow for recreational activities for the seniors who live there," said David Rodriguez, director of housing and project management for Hispanics United.

However, the project faced resistance and questions concerning the amount of parking, with neighbors noting that Virginia is a busy street and the surrounding neighborhood is already crowded with parking that would only get worse. While the tenants might not have cars, critics worried about where the employees would park.

The project does not include onsite parking, as the new Green Code does not have a "per-unit" parking requirement.

The nonprofit "did agree that parking was a germane issue to the project, because we had been discussing that with neighbors," Rodriguez said. Common Councilmember David Franczyk, who represents that area, also "made it clear that we had to address the same issue," he added.

So Hispanics United signed a "letter of interest" with a church at 224 Hudson St. - two blocks or a quarter-mile, to the north - with the intention of leasing the church's existing lot for the new project's needs. That will give it nine spaces, and Rodriguez said the nonprofit plans to work with the church to improve the lot.

"There are people who walk to work more than a quarter of a mile," noted Planning Board member Martha Lamparelli.

The group also has eight spaces in the backyard of its 254 Virginia building, for a total of 17. Rodriguez noted that the project also is near public transportation routes.

"It's a good solution," he said. "We feel those 17 spaces are more than enough to keep those employees off the main street," he said.

The project already received variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals, so the Planning Board approval was the last major local step. Construction, which would last 18 months, would be financed through a combination of state Housing Trust Fund money and low-income housing tax credits. Officials plan to submit their application to the state by Dec. 5.

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