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Buffalo Planning Board approves first building at Elmwood Crossing

Cleanup and construction work will begin by midsummer on the initial phase of the planned Elmwood Crossing redevelopment of the former Women & Children's Hospital site in Elmwood Village, now that the development team has received final city approval for the first building.

The Buffalo Planning Board Monday gave the green light for Sinatra & Company Real Estate and Ellicott Development Co. to proceed with plans for a five-story mixed-use building at the northeast corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street.

The 65,000-square-foot project received three critical variances last week from the Zoning Board of Appeals, including for height.

The Planning Board had approved an environmental review April 9.

"This is absolutely what we hoped would happen today," said Amy Nagy, Sinatra's director of development. "This step in the municipal approval process will allow us to move forward."

The $16 million building will feature at least four retail spaces on the ground floor, office space on the second floor and as many as 23 apartments on the upper three levels.

That's reduced from the original six-story plan, with up to 36 apartments, which was met with opposition from some critics in the neighborhood for being too high and too large, in violation of the city's Green Code limit of three stories.

"It's a reduction in the scope of the project, in response to the feedback received," said attorney Sean Hopkins, who represents the developers.

Elmwood Crossing project wins key zoning approvals

The new project – located on a parking lot at 451 Elmwood Ave. and a portion of the 219 Bryant property that housed the hospital – represents the first significant component of the transformation of the eight-acre hospital site, which Sinatra and Ellicott purchased from Kaleida Health in November.

Overall, developers have proposed about 200 apartments, 40 to 50 condominiums, 40-45 townhouses, an urban grocery, boutique shops, office space and an EduKids daycare center.

Most of the existing hospital buildings, including the Variety and Tanner towers, would be retained and reused, while two buildings would be expanded. A 15,000-square-foot former pharmacy on West Utica Street would be expanded into a four-story building with an urban grocery, boutique shops and apartments. The 4,000-square-foot former Hodge Pediatrics would more than double in size to house the daycare.

A portion of the new building will include affordable housing, although the amount hasn't been determined. That's in keeping with the developers' public pledge – now encapsulated in a memorandum of understanding with the city – that at least 20 percent of all rental units throughout the campus will be affordable for individuals and families earning 80 percent of the area's median income.

First Elmwood Crossing project faces criticism on multiple fronts

Nagy said the developers are already hearing at least twice a week from potential tenants and retail operators, citing the buzz around the "whole kit and kaboodle" that the team is planning.

"People are interested and excited about what's happening. This is a new type of product for the city of Buffalo, where we have designed a true place," she said, noting the inclusion of rental and for-sale housing, retail space and a hotel.

"We are hearing from people who want to be part of this exciting new opportunity. We are hearing from people who are interested in renting apartments, and we are hearing from those potential retail users who need a new storefront," Nagy said.

The facade will feature tan simulated cast stone on the ground floor and top level with red brick masonry covering the middle floors.

Plans call for using an existing parking lot east of the building, with as many as 48 secured spaces – enough to cover the residential and some commercial needs, officials noted.

Developers are still negotiating to buy the nearby city-owned Gallagher Ramp, with 600 spaces – of which 115 on the first floor would be for the public, while the rest would be used for Elmwood Crossing.

Buffalo Planning Board starts review of Elmwood Crossing

The site, which housed gas stations in the past, has to be cleaned up under state supervision, so officials are working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

But Nagy said officials hope to start that work in August or September, followed by about 14 months of construction.

"We have been working at a robust clip with the folks on the team with us. We've heard that the community and the business owners want to see some activity happen to fill the vacuum that was left behind by the closing of Women & Children's Hospital," she said. "Everybody is looking to have site work occurring this summer."

The development team is working with its architects and the State Historic Preservation Office on the plans for the rest of the hospital buildings and properties. Only limited demolition is planned, Nagy noted, but that still has to be coordinated with the state as a historic preservation project.

Nagy said officials have determined that the initial design for the Variety Tower may not work with community expectations, so "we're re-examining what is proposed there."

Sinatra and Ellicott hope to return to the Planning Board in May to start the full environmental review process for the entire site, expected to last 10 to 12 months while design work continues.

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