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Waterfront neighbors' requests draw ire of Planning Board

Buffalo Planning Board members approved a series of changes to Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s West End townhouse project Monday evening, but not before expressing their exasperation – not with the developer, but with the neighbors.

Ciminelli officials returned for modifications to its $20 million proposal that was already approved in July, after four years of back-and-forth negotiations and months of public battles with Waterfront Village residents.

The developer is proposing to construct 20 for-sale townhomes in four buildings on an L-shaped city-owned parcel at 240-260 Lakefront Blvd. One building, stretching toward the water, would have eight townhouses, while the other three would have four units each.

The firm revised its plans several times in the past year in response to objections from the other Waterfront Village neighbors, who were focused on density, height, setback and other issues that affected their waterfront views. Ciminelli met nine of their 10 demands in full before winning Planning Board approval.

But it also had to negotiate a final land-purchase agreement with the city and Common Council, giving neighbors another opportunity to press for adjustments to the project. The eight revisions include three changes specifically requested by residents plus several others designed to make the units more marketable to buyers or flesh out other details of the project.

Perhaps most notably, Ciminelli agreed to shift the westernmost townhouse southward by 10.7 feet, opening up the views for residents of the Portside complex while increasing the project's setback from the water from 115 feet to 120 feet. That was a big subject of resistance from neighbors, who objected to the loss or diminishing of their waterfront views.

Planning Board OKs Ciminelli's Waterfront Village townhouse project

The developer also replaced the turnaround at the end of the driveway with a "gentle curve" so that cars can still turn around but can't park in the "stub." And officials revised the landscaping plan so that all plantings will be no more than two feet tall – again to preserve neighbors' views.

Additionally, each townhouse will now have a small concrete patio for grilling. A small equipment shed was added to the end of the eight-unit building for security. And a metal shingle was added to the facade alongside the previously approved materials.

"All we’ve done is finesse the exteriors," said architect Steven Carmina. "You’re probably not going to pick up any modifications by eye."

Yet that still wasn't enough for some residents. Frank Lysiak, executive director of the Waterfront Village Advisory Council, praised Ciminelli's efforts but asked the Planning Board to ensure that representatives from the neighboring projects get appointed to a committee to select the specific plantings.

And Randy Bergman, president of the Portside association, voiced concern that the proposed new patios could be used for things that could block views, including retractable awnings.

That drew the eye rolls, signs and objections from board members, who noted that Ciminelli has come back multiple times already, and chided the neighbors.

"Of all the applicants that have come in with plans that neighbors are concerned about, I’ve got to say the team here has been as responsive as any that has come before this board," said Board Vice Chair Cynthia Schwartz, citing her "level of frustration" with residents. "This is really getting beyond a rational discussion."

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