Share this article

print logo

Editorial: Emphasizing affordability in downtown housing

Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s revision of its 201 Ellicott Street housing project qualifies as a wholesale change with potential to serve more of the middle class.

Plans to redevelop the 2.5-acre property – now a parking lot – into a higher-end retail and residential complex with underground parking have been scrapped. The developer is now focusing on affordable housing with a “less formal” fresh food market.

The news should satisfy advocates who expressed dissatisfaction with the original plan. The push has been intensified to get developers to offer more of a mixed income residential presence. Many developers have pushed back on any requirement to do so, citing costs.

To the extent that developers seek public incentives – which are frequently necessary in Buffalo – it isn’t inappropriate for the public to have some influence over projects. What is more, and regardless of incentives, the city is better off when downtown can house residents of a variety of income levels.

As The News’ Jonathan Epstein reported, the new plan features a smaller building – whose dimensions and design could change further based on community feedback – and targeting those earning between 50 percent and 90 percent of the area median income, or $26,000 to $60,000.

Plan details now call for:

  • 201 affordable one- and two-bedroom units of about 600 and 890 square feet, with rates starting at $660 and $790 per month, respectively.
  • An unspecified fresh food market grocery, other than the Orchard Fresh that was originally planned.
  • “Adjacent flexible hard-scape” that would accommodate a farmers market, food trucks, events, deliveries and “appropriate parking” for the store.

In addition, there will be green space and outdoor spaces for tenants to gather with “native plantings” and other landscape.

Improvements to Ellicott, Clinton and Oak streets, expected to make the area more walkable and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, would still occur.

The new plan was presented to community groups and area residents recently during an information session. There are still steps to complete, such as finalizing the land-purchase agreement with the city for the appraised value of about $2.4 million. That is subject to Common Council approval. The site cleanup would begin in the spring; construction is tentatively slated to start in fall 2019.

City officials are glad to see progress.

Ciminelli was named designated developer for the site in February 2016, one year after Mayor Byron W. Brown publicly stated that the city would seek to redevelop the property. He knew what he wanted: an urban grocery, structured parking and residential space.

The high-rise plan was unveiled in December 2016 and seemed intriguing. The notion of taking one of the surface parking lots in the city and redeveloping it into housing which, these days is in high demand in downtown, is worth supporting.

But plans change and, in this case, will turn a project aimed at a smaller percentage of the community and broaden the opportunity. That’s a worthy goal.

There are no comments - be the first to comment