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Planning Board praises market, affordable housing at 201 Ellicott

The creation of affordable housing and a fresh food market downtown in place of a surface parking lot 201 Ellicott St. drew praise at the Buffalo Planning Board meeting Monday, where only one speaker opposed the project because of the lack of parking.

"I think it's about time we encourage people to walk," board member Horace A. Goia said.

About 10 people spoke on the project at a public hearing, many praising the 201 affordable apartment units Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. plans to develop in five and seven stories on the site. Others noted the proposed Braymiller Market would give a little respite to downtown residents living in a "food desert" with no other food stores.

The market will be located on the north side of the lot and will be 1.5 stories high. About 6,000 of the 20,000 square feet in the market area will be used for retail, and the rest would be used for Braymiller's wholesale business.

Also planned are 70 two-bedroom units and 131 one-bedroom units, which would be rented to those making $26,000 to $42,000 a year. Twenty-nine parking spaces will be used for the market, and all other parking would be off-site.

The now-vacant lot holds 375 cars, and more than 580 spaces are available nearby, said Mike Leydecker of Wendel Cos., who studied traffic and parking for the developer.

"There is sufficient parking within a 10-minute walk of the existing facility to accommodate the displaced parking," he said.

[RELATED: Downsized Ellicott Street project irks some downtown developers, residents]

The project will be the first private mobility hub in the city, encouraging walking, bicycling, ride-sharing and public transit.

There will be staff assisting residents with mobility, said Katie O'Sullivan, project manager for Go Buffalo Niagara. That staff would help residents with automobiles identify parking spaces for them at nearby lots or ramps.

The Main Place Liberty Group opposes removing parking spaces from downtown, said Mike Manning, vice president of leasing. He said the company is against any development at the site without additional parking. More people are commuting downtown, he said.

"Asking people to walk 10 to 15 minutes in winter in Buffalo — we're not seeing that being reasonable," he said. "We think it's a bit absurd to take away any parking without at least meeting that need."

Board members asked if handicapped parking would be available on site for tenants who may have a disability, and the answer was no.

"Even a five-minute walk can be a challenge," board member Cynthia Schwartz said, but she added later about the project, "This is what should be happening to surface lots."

Board members wanted more information on the tractor-trailers that would be delivering food to the market and their ability to back up on Oak Street, which is governed by the state Department of Transportation.

But board members liked what they saw.

"The general direction of the board is positive," board Chairman James Morrell said.

The project needs some variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals before the site plan can come back before the Planning Board for final approval.

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