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Parking concerns from Elmwood Village neighbors sidetrack Nardin's plans

It all comes down to parking.

Nardin Academy's president on Monday tried to impress upon the city's Planning Board the importance of the Buffalo private school and the value that a proposed new gymnasium would bring for students. Marsha Joy Sullivan also stressed the 160-year-old school's history and roots in the Elmwood Village since 1905, its growth and its reputation.

But that wasn't enough to reassure determined neighbors, nor was it enough to satisfy Planning Board members, who tabled the proposal for two weeks.

Neighbors questioned Nardin's efforts to work with the community, as well as its claims about how often it would have events at the gym. They noted that Sullivan said the school has been planning the project for four years, but only told them two weeks ago. And they said it could have made changes to address the traffic flow years ago if officials had wanted.

"There has been an unholy rush to drive this through," said Jay Banks of Tudor Place.

They also cited past unfulfilled promises by the school to stagger buses and limit construction activity during previous expansions. "A lot of times, they say they will do something. In the end, they don’t," said neighbor Sherry Willoughby.

And they demanded more details about the hours of construction and where contractors and school staff would park during the work. They also criticized the look of the proposed building, which will be predominantly tan and beige brick, with a band of green metal panels along the top third.

Sullivan, the school's president, said she was disappointed.

"Although I do realize the frustration of our neighbors, we are completely responsible to their needs, and if it takes another couple of weeks to give them the trust and assurance that we are going to do what we say we are going to do, I'm happy to take that time," she said.

However, Sullivan also downplayed the objections as coming from a small group of neighbors, not the entire community. "It's a large, large neighborhood," Sullivan said. "There are many neighbors that obviously felt comfortable enough that they didn't come."

The school at 135 Cleveland Ave. wants to construct a two-story rear addition with a health and wellness facility on the first floor and a full-sized gym on the second, elevated above a parking area. The project would create a new plaza inside the campus, taking traffic off Cleveland for student pickup and drop-off, and would add 15 parking spaces, for a total of 126. The proposal received four variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Construction is slated to begin in the spring, with completion by fall 2020. Sullivan said Nardin is still raising funds for the project as part of a larger capital campaign. She would not divulge the project cost or the size of the campaign.

Officials touted the benefits to the school's 845 students, who don't have enough fitness space currently. The volleyball and girls' basketball teams must now be bused to Villa Maria College for their 20 home games, which would now be at the new facility.

The new building also would for the first time create an auditorium space where the entire student body and faculty could gather for school-wide assemblies.

In the end, board members balked, citing a lack of information.

"I'm not ready for an approval without having answers," said Board Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz. "The message to Nardin is you may feel like you’re being a good neighbor, but clearly ... there are things that you could be doing that would make for better neighbors."

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