Developer Rocco Termini has followed through with his threat of legal action over the loss of a downtown parking lot, filing a lawsuit against the city and Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. in an effort to block the project.
Termini – through his Signature Development Buffalo LLC and seven entities at his Hotel @ the Lafayette – sued Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, the city's Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, Ciminelli and Braymiller Market of Hamburg. He wants to overturn the approvals granted to the project, and force the city and Ciminelli to do it again.
The action had been expected after Termini expressed repeated opposition to Ciminelli's latest plan to construct an affordable housing complex on the parking lot at 201 Ellicott St. He says the lack of a parking component as part of the new building is irresponsible and harmful to the surrounding area.
The 220,000-square-foot complex – with a seven-story section, a five-story section and a separate one-story building – would include 201 apartments, plus a wholesale grocery operation and small fresh foods store operated by Braymiller owner Stuart Green. The market is slated to open by April 1, 2021, with the apartments later that year.
But instead of the original plan for an 800-space parking ramp, the latest plan would have very little parking.
The 2.5-acre lot is behind Termini's Hotel @ the Lafayette, which relies on the 375-space parking lot as well as other nearby parking facilities. It's also close to both Termini's AM&A's Warehouse Lofts and the Liberty Building.
In his lawsuit, Termini accuses the city of exceeding its authority with the "threatened imminent closure and transfer of a public parking facility" because it was not sold at auction and has not been abandoned.
Attorneys for the city, Braymiller and Ciminelli responded that Termini and the other plaintiffs have not proven they will suffer imminent or definite harm, and failed to demonstrate that the city did not follow proper procedures in its approvals. They also asserted that the city has every right under its charter to sell the property without an auction because there were no deed restrictions and it isn't a public park.
State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto granted a temporary restraining order on June 24, but Termini is still seeking a preliminary injunction barring the sale or transfer of the city-owned lot to Ciminelli and nullifying the 14 variances granted to Ciminelli and the site plan approval.
According to an affidavit by Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli's vice president of development and planning, the developer anticipates closing on the property purchase on July 9. She said that Ciminelli has already incurred $1.34 million in project costs as of the end of May, and would suffer an additional $1.368 million in extra costs and damages if the project is delayed by just three months because of a injunction.
Termini claims in his lawsuit that he and the other businesses at the Lafayette have invested more than $50 million, including $30 million for his renovation project. The building has more than 70 daily employees, while housing a 57-room luxury boutique hotel, a restaurant and banquet facility that handles 600 events annually, 92 apartments and small businesses.
And "each of the businesses is severely dependent on the 375 parking spaces," which are the closest option, according to the court documents. The nearest public facilities are the Mohawk and Adams ramps, both of which are full, with have long waiting lists and wait times.
Termini's lawsuit also claims the city and its agencies failed to adhere to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and asserted that their approvals were "arbitrary and capricious, and an abuse of discretion." He found fault with noise and traffic impact studies, which he said failed to fully examine those "intolerable" effects. And he said the project still needs state Department of Transportation approvals and a special-use permit from the Common Council for a 14,000-square-foot warehouse as part of the Braymiller operation.
He also noted that the city's original request for proposals to redevelop the site required any bidders to include a parking structure for the Lafayette and the Liberty Building. Calling it a "bad faith bait-and-switch practice" by the city, Termini said that requirement had dissuaded him from seeking the redevelopment bid because he was assured that parking would be included. Instead, he said, the city allowed Ciminelli to change its plans after it had already been selected as the designated developer.
The plaintiffs include ABL Leasing LLC, which owns the residential apartment floors; Buffalo Lafayette Leasing LLC, which leases the building's commercial space; the Tap Room at the Lafayette, which runs the boutique hotel and Lafayette Brewing Co.; Classic Events @ the Lafayette LLC, which operates a catering business and three banquet rooms; H@ Lofts LLC, which owns the 92-room AM&A's Warehouse Lofts next door at 369 Washington St.; Groom Service LLC, which runs a hair salon and beauty bar inside Lafayette; Dark Horse Hair Studio, located a block away at 403 Main St.; and the owners of Groom Service and Dark Horse, who live nearby.