Just days after a court cleared the way, crews began demolition Tuesday morning on a series of homes and other structures on Elmwood Avenue, where developer Chason Affinity Companies is planning a new 40-unit condominium project.
Workers had taken down five or six buildings as of midday, with the rest to come down during the remainder of the day and into Wednesday, said Chason CEO P. Jeffrey Birtch. Once that's complete, he said, it'll take another two weeks before the site can be cleared and prepared for construction to begin, he said.
"They'll be knocked down, but then the debris removal will begin and that will take some time," he said.
He said the environmental cleanup work on the site, for asbestos and other contaminants, has already been completed.
But project opponents were already crying foul, saying the action was premature because a judge had yet to hear their appeal.
"It is concerning to the community that the city would allow a demolition permit when the appeal still does not have a final ruling," said Gretchen Cercone, president of the Lancaster Avenue Block Club, who led some of the opposition to the project that critics called unsuitable for the Elmwood Village, and a violation of the city's new Green Code.
"We plan on seeing this through and will adhere to the law and due process as we have all along. Unfortunately, all are not doing the same."
She called the demolition "unnerving" because there's no final decision and it's now too late to stop that part of the project. "Due process of law would allow for the appeal to be ruled upon before an irreversible action such as demolition," she said.
Birtch, however, said state Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Walker dismissed the last of the legal claims last Thursday, including a request for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the demolition. "Every action that was pending has been dealt with, and they've all been dismissed," he said.
The development company owned by Mark Chason is building a four-story complex at Elmwood and Forest avenues, with 40 for-sale condo units, three ground-floor retail spaces and one level of underground parking.
It was the target of intense opposition by some people in the neighborhood, who objected to its size and scale as inappropriate and out of character for the area. In particular, they argued that it violated the new Green Code restrictions for Elmwood Village, which capped the building's height at three stories and also set limits on its width along Elmwood Avenue.
The building, which was earlier reduced in height from five stories, will still be 44 feet high and 315 feet wide, exceeding those directives. And the project requires the demolition of 14 structures and the combination of multiple properties into one.
So after months of public hearings, community meetings and vitriolic comments back and forth, the developer finally obtained eight needed variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals before the Planning Board approved the project in late July.
That led two Buffalo residents who live near the planned site to file a special "Article 78" lawsuit against the city, challenging its approvals of the project. The suit by Susan Davis and Sandra Girage accused the city's Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals of violating the city's new Green Code — as well as state environmental and historic preservation laws — when they approved the project.
The plaintiffs argued that officials ignored the city's comprehensive plan, failed to properly consider the impact on the neighborhood, neglected disclosure and public notice requirements, and disregarded the opinion of state historic preservation officials. And they asked the court to void the municipal approvals and issue an injunction to stop demolition or construction work.
The lawsuit was dismissed by Walker, Birtch said, although Richard Lippes, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said an appeal is pending.
Birtch said construction can now begin on the site by early to mid-January, with completion expected in 18 months. He said the bitter cold and snowy weather is not hampering the project, although the frigid temperatures create some problems for certain pieces of equipment.