Uniland Development Co. won a green light from the Buffalo Planning Board for its planned new medical office building at the corner of Elmwood and Hertel avenues, but it may still face a legal battle over a 60-year-old easement and a 31-year-old court ruling.
The Amherst-based developer is planning to renovate an aging 29,870-square-foot warehouse, put on a small addition toward Elmwood to create a new facade, and convert the combined single-story facility into a 32,953-square-foot medical office building.
The building would be located at the northwest corner of the intersection, on 2.49 acres of a larger 4.3-acre site at 766 and 800 Hertel. That's part of the larger 20-acre property on both sides of the intersection that Uniland previously purchased, and it's the first project the developer has unveiled for the neighborhood.
But the project had to overcome some neighborhood resistance and a challenge from a neighboring industrial company.
Uniland Senior Project Architect Kevin Kirk said the developer had reached out to neighbors, including leaders of the West Hertel Association, and met with them to discuss concerns about landscaping, traffic, pedestrian access and safety. The association wants a full traffic study for the entire area, not just for the current project site.
The association also wanted to know more about the developer's overall plans for the entire 20 acres. "There's some frustration that we don't have a master plan to share at this point," Kirk said. "Obviously, we're working on that internally, but we're not ready to share yet."
Margaret Szczepaniec, president of the West Hertel Association, said the group just wants to know the "overall feel" of the developer's plan. She said neighbors "know it'll be big box" and "we're OK with it."
"Whatever they do at this corner will dictate what they do at other corners," she said. "If you ever walk that stretch of Hertel Avenue, there are no trees. People have no place to sit, even for a minute. That’s all we’re asking for. We just want to see more of what’s going to reach in the community. We want to know what it’s going to look like."
The owner of Commercial Pipe & Supply Corp., an industrial company at 1920 Elmwood, objected to the planned parking and landscaping at the north end of the Uniland property because he has a permanent easement allowing his trucks to use that land to enter, turn around and exit from his facility.
The easement dates from 1980, and Commercial Pipe has been using it for more than 20 years, said Gregory P. Photiadis of Duke Holzman Photiadis & Gresens LLP, who represents Commercial Pipe owner John Hurley. It was also upheld by a state court in a 1987 lawsuit with a prior owner of Uniland's property, resulting in a permanent injunction.
"If the plan as proposed were to go forward, our trucks would be unable to turn around," Photiadis said. "I think the applicant should be encouraged to reach a resolution rather than proceeding down a path of litigation."
Jeffery Palumbo, an attorney at Barclay Damon representing Uniland, said the developer is "well aware of the court case," but said the prior owner had planned to erect an entire building that would have blocked Commercial Pipe's access. The parking area doesn't do that, he added.
Most of the parking is behind the building, so only about 15 to 20 spaces are affected by the dispute. Even so, Uniland's Kirk said, the parking, drop-off and the building addition toward Elmwood are required as part of an agreement with a planned anchor medical tenant that Uniland would not identify. Without them, he said, the developer might lose the lead tenant.
Besides, Palumbo added, it's out of the Planning Board's jurisdiction. "That is an issue that we’ll work out as we move forward," the attorney said. "We’ll meet and continue to meet to resolve this issue, but that’s really our issue."
Uniland also received approval from the planning board to consolidate five properties at 766, 768 and 770 Hertel and 1876 and 1880 Elmwood into three parcels for the current project and future redevelopment. That $4.5 million project is expected to take about a year to construct.