Fifteen feet. That's about the length of the conference room table that the Buffalo Planning Board sits around.
And that's all that may separate Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. from its opponents over the developer's scaled-back plan for its new Waterfront Village residential project.
After four years of design work and revisions, negotiations with the city and discussions with the Waterfront Village Advisory Council, the Buffalo-based firm is seeking final approval for its $20 million West End development at 240-260 Lakefront Blvd., which would fill in one of the last remaining pieces of land in the harbor community.
Ciminelli has battled repeatedly with neighbors over the height of the buildings, the number of units proposed for the site and the distance of the buildings from the water and street.
And the company has insisted previously that it's done everything it can – only to come back with more changes after failing to win over the resistance.
Five months after the latest firestorm of criticism in February sent them back to the drawing board, Ciminelli came back to the Planning Board Monday with a revised plan that the firm said would address almost all the neighbor objections that the project would damage their views, property values and neighborhood.
But a handful of critics were still holding out for more.
"I believe there are still multiple issues to be addressed," said Mark Flint, president of the Breakwaters Townhome Association, one of the 11 developments. "They haven't addressed them satisfactorily to my point of view."
Neighbors in the Portside and Marina Park developments within Waterfront Village were unhappy that the proposal would still block part of their waterfront views.
They want Ciminelli to pull the project back by another 15 feet – though there was some indication Monday that even 13 feet would suffice.
"My disappointment is that of all the issues, the one that affects us economically the most is the one that they fell short on," said Kim Fiedler, a Marina Park resident. "What they're doing is creating 20 new units that they'll place there and they'll directly and negatively impact 17 existing owners. How is that fair? Where is the justice in that?"
Ciminelli unveiled details of the changes at a community meeting Thursday at Templeton Landing, attended by more than 40 people, representing at least nine of the 11 developments that comprise Waterfront Village, with more than 450 residents.
"I was very pleased with the folks that supported it," said Amber Holycross, Ciminelli's senior development manager. "A few came up to me after the meeting and said you listened to our requests."
On Monday, the developer previewed the modifications for the Planning Board, which agreed to modify its previously accepted environmental impact statement and scheduled a public hearing on the revised project for July 30.
Ciminelli, which had previously proposed a combination of 31 town houses and condominiums on Lakefront Boulevard, is now planning to construct four buildings with 20 town homes on the L-shaped lot abutting the water. That's sandwiched between the Portside and Marina Park projects.
All would be marketed for sale, with open floor plans and views of both the water and the city skyline, according to documents submitted to the Planning Board.
Each town house would be three stories in height, with an integrated two-car garage, as well as balconies and patios. Nineteen of them would be 3,300 square feet in size, while a single unit on the end of one of the buildings, closest to the water, would be larger, at 4,590 square feet.
"Just because it's going to have the best views, we felt there would be demand in the market for that larger unit," Holycross said.
Under the new plan by architects at Carmina Wood Morris PC, three buildings with four town houses in each would sit parallel to Lakefront and Ojibwa Circle, while the fourth building – with eight town houses – would stretch perpendicular toward the water, with the units stepped out and angled.
The previous plan featured seven town houses set back from the road and four separate condo buildings along Lakefront and Ojibwa, with six units in each.
But neighbors from the surrounding developments complained that the project was not consistent with the rest of the area and would harm them.
They criticized the height of the condo buildings at 44 feet, the concentration or density of the project, and the setback from the water and street. They also focused on quality-of-life issues, such as increased traffic, parking and stress on city resources like water and sewer capacity, as well as police.
Ciminelli was named designated developer of the 2.43-acre parcel by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency in January 2015, with an agreed-upon purchase price for the city-owned land.
Company officials have said they must achieve at least a certain density on the project in order for it to make sense financially, but they are now also talking with city officials about reducing the purchase price for the land.
The developer made changes. Holycross said the concerns expressed by neighbors focused on five key areas of setbacks, building heights, density, landscape and parking, with 10 specific requests within those categories. She said the developer "met nine of them completely," and 50 percent of the remaining one.
By switching to all town houses, the firm brought the height down to less than 39 feet and reduced the number of units from 31 to 20. Officials also worked to limit the height of trees and other landscaping so it doesn't block residents' views.
Ciminelli met almost all the setback requests, Holycross said. In one case, she said, Breakwaters residents wanted the project to be set back 45 feet from Lakefront Boulevard. The proposal puts the building 38 feet from the property line, but Holycross said it's actually 58 feet from the street curb to the building.
There's one exception. Ciminelli had proposed a 100-foot setback from the water, while a handful of residents whose units would face the new construction demanded 130 feet. The new proposal comes in at 115 feet, which isn't enough for Fiedler and other residents.
"The one issue that hits the residents that are affected right in the pocketbook is the setback from the water. The water creates the value for all the units," Fiedler said.
He and others criticized the one supersized unit on the end, saying that's what's creating the problem now.
Ciminelli worked out a solution to allow 65 parking spaces in the center and in front of each garage, while encouraging more use of bicycles and public transportation in keeping with the Green Code.
"Being a residential community, this is pretty typical and standard. There's a little more of an understanding that parking is needed and accepted," Holycross said. "We have to balance the code with the needs of the development and the neighbors."
The project, which didn't need any variances before, now needs one for the garage, which will be only five feet from the front entrance of the building instead of the required 20.
Company representatives will go to the Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday, but Holycross called it a "minor variance."
If it receives all approvals, including from the Common Council for the property sale, Ciminelli officials hope to submit paperwork to the state Attorney General's Office by December for the sale of the condo-style town homes and receive approval by next June. Until then, they can't start to market the new homes or take deposits.
Holycross said the company would then start site work and construction by S.M. Hayes by July 2019. The project would be completed in two phases.