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Surrounded neighbor objects to LoRusso's Campus West project

Former judge-turned-developer Anthony LoRusso's plan to construct a new 39-unit microapartment building on West Avenue has to overcome one key obstacle before it's likely to proceed.

The couple whose home it would surround doesn't like it.

LoRusso, a former City Court judge who later turned to real estate, wants to erect his new Campus West project at 129 West, with small one-bedroom apartments aimed at moderate-income tenants. It would feature four floors of 550-square-foot units, with each having a patio or balcony, as well as a new style of wall-mounted Murphy bed to conserve space.

But those balconies are a major source of consternation for Eric and Shelley Kempisty, who live at 115 West. The new project would wrap around their home, so the balconies would overlook their backyard and intrude on their privacy, they said.

"Their one property engulfs our property right in the center, with 16 proposed patios facing our backyard," Shelley Kempisty told the Planning Board.

This diagram using Erie County property-mapping software shows the locations of the current development, the new development and the single-family home in the middle.

Planning Board member Martha Lamparelli sympathized. "I wouldn't want to have someone in a balcony glaring into my backyard from three feet up as I'm playing with my kids," she said.

Marc Romanowski, an attorney representing LoRusso, acknowledged the "understandable" concern.

"We'll talk to the client, and see where they're at," he said. "Once we look at things and make a decision, we'll reach back out to the neighbor."

The proposed new units are designed as "workforce housing" for employees on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and other parts of nearby downtown Buffalo. The building is also located down the street from D'Youville College.

The project is not subsidized, but the size of the units means that the market-rate rents - previously estimated at $875 per month, with utilities - are still affordable, Romanowski said.

It would also include a full basement and about 1,000 square feet of first-floor community space for residents to use.

"We're hearing a lot from residents that they don't have space to gather as a family," Romanowski said.

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Because of the slope of the ground, the building's height comes in just below the 44-foot limit under the Green Code. But LoRusso still needs a variance for the fourth floor, as well as for the type and height of the fence that is planned. A side-yard variance may also be sought.

The new project represents a continuation of LoRusso's Allentown Square Apartments at Maryland Place, a three-story building which is adjacent to the new site, and on the other side of the Kempistys' home. Crews are still finishing up some work on the upper levels of that larger 59-unit complex, located at 295 Maryland St., but it's complete enough so that 30 residents have moved in.

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"It's moving along. That building is finishing up nicely," the attorney said. "We're excited about this one, because it allows us to further the development of the overall site."

In fact, Romanowski said, LoRusso ultimately wants to combine the sites as a single property.

But that's also part of the Kempistys' concerns. The couple complained that LoRusso's original plan called for greenspace on part of the Maryland parcel, and there was no discussion about more development there.

"It was stated it was going to be like a park, with trees and bushes," Shelley Kempisty said. "Instead, it's been a dirt pile for a year and a half, and now they're proposing to put a second building there."

Her husband said the developer "misled the community" since "the plan was always to build a second building."

Not true, Romanowski said. "It was shown as green space originally because we didn't have any plans for development," he said. "We never made any commitments that it would be permanently greenspace."

The new building would include 61 parking spaces used for both buildings, which together have 98 units. The Green Code no longer requires a specific formula for parking, and Romanowski said a transportation study determined that would be sufficient. He added that many of the residents are more likely to use public transportation - two bus lines stop near the site - and not have their own cars. Only 20 of the 30 current Allentown Apartments tenants have vehicles, he noted.

"We've done a number of these projects, and rail and bus really drives down the need for parking, and our clients see that," Romanowski said.

But the Kempistys questioned that as well, since the Allentown Apartments aren't full yet, and there's a big gap between the number of tenants and spaces in the overall development.

"In market-rate apartments, the people who live there usually have a vehicle," Shelley Kempisty said. "Something doesn't add up, and some of the units there in the existing building are two-bedrooms."

The project will come back to the Planning Board on April 9.


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