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Last Waterfront Village project takes shape – eight years after court defeat

For more than 30 years, Miro and Barbara Staroba have dreamed of building a set of town houses at the end of Lakefront Boulevard, on land they had purchased across the street from two condos they owned.

The couple - who own Staroba Plastics in Holland - talked about it with others, conjured up ideas and even worked with an architect on designs. But it never came to fruition, even after the city approved it – because neighbors sued them and blocked it with a court victory eight years ago.

Now the idea is coming back, but with someone else in the driver's seat.

A pair of local real estate investors and consultants have agreed to purchase the 1.28-acre property and complete the Starobas' development vision.

Colby Smith and Orrin Tobbe – through CD Lakefront LLC – are working with Matthew Moscati of TRM Architects on the plan, which calls for 30 three-story town houses to be constructed in three phases at 367 Lakefront Blvd.

That's the last major developable parcel at Waterfront Village, but the brick homes would not have strong waterfront views – nor would they block anyone else's views. Instead, the site is part of Lakefront Commons, sandwiched between Lakefront Boulevard and the Niagara Thruway, near LaSalle Park.

Each 2,704-square-foot town house will include a two-car garage, basement and rear storage on the ground level, with the kitchen, living room, dining room and entry on the raised first floor. The next two floors would contain two bedrooms, two bathrooms and additional living space, with a rooftop garden and patio on the top. The units would include high-end features, with geothermal heating and cooling.

They would sell for $540,000 to $650,000, or about $200 to $240 per square foot.

"The price point is well under the market," Tobbe said, noting the units in nearby developments at the waterfront that have sold for as much as $1 million or more. "This should go quickly at that price."

Even Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.'s new West End town houses are priced at about $750,000, but "they've got waterfront views," said Smith, whose Colby Development LLC will be the ultimate owner and developer.

The first phase of construction would start with 10 homes – five offered at a discounted "founder's price" and the other five at a regular price. The second phase would feature another 15 homes, followed the final five that will be funded from the cash flow of prior sales. In all, Smith and Tobbe expect to invest at least $5 million.

The project, which does not yet have a name, does not require any zoning variances, but still has to go through community meetings and a municipal review process. The developers expect to submit initial documents to the city within a month.

"It would be nice to be in the ground by spring of next year," Smith said.

The phased construction will likely take two to three years.

The project would likely mark the culmination of development at Waterfront Village, which has been built up into more than a dozen communities over several decades. In fact, the Starobas began working on their plan through Nemo Development more than 30 years ago, as the Admirals Walk condominiums were under construction. They even won city approval in 2008 over the objections of neighbors, when it was a 36-unit project.

But a group of 20 Lakefront Commons homeowners who opposed the project took it to court and won a permanent injunction in 2001 that blocked construction. The ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Gerald J. Whalen concluded that the three-story height and design of the proposed structures violated a covenant governing how buildings in Lakefront Commons looked. So the project never went forward.

Smith and Tobbe learned about it after Tobbe contacted Moscati recently to offer his services in general as a consultant for the architect's clients. Moscati mentioned the Lakefront Boulevard project that he had been working on for a decade, and asked Tobbe if he was interested.

Tobbe brought in Smith, met with Miro and Barbara Staroba, and "hit it off."

"We promised them that their vision will be our vision," Tobbe said. "It wasn't at all contentious. We came to an agreement easily."

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