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Editorial: Time to move on Elmwood Crossing

Neighborhood residents have offered a good deal of input into how they would like to see the Elmwood Crossing development take shape on the campus of the former Women and Children’s Hospital. Not all will get what they want, but the developers have been attentive.

One vocal assortment of residents amplified their complaints with an online petition that’s gathered more than 125 signatures. They are urging the Buffalo Common Council to reject a “planned unit development” designation for the project, which would simplify it under a single set of zoning rules, allowing for variances from the city’s Green Code.

The council will consider the objections made by the petitioners, but derailing the venture at this stage would be a mistake. Preserving the charms of the Elmwood Village and nearby environs is a worthy goal, but charm and progress are not mutually exclusive. Repurposing the 8-acre campus, vacated when the hospital relocated to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, can bring new vitality to that section of the city while helping to attract new residents.

Nick Sinatra’s real estate company and William Paladino’s Ellicott Development are partners in the effort to create a mix of residential, retail and office space on the site. The plans include 220 apartments, 27 condominiums, 22 for-sale townhouses, a 75-room boutique hotel, an urban grocery, boutique shops, offices and a day care center.

A planned unit development, or PUD, refers to a type of project and the regulations that govern what can be built. It has been used in other situations in Buffalo to unify a complex plan, including for the $165 million expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The Common Council is considering the PUD request. Its Legislation Committee held a public hearing on Nov. 6 at which some of the critics registered complaints about the project. Council Member David Rivera assured residents at the meeting that their input is being heard.

“I’ve learned that when you have development projects, this phase is always contentious and anxiety and stress of the unknown,” Rivera said. “I will not leave it to the goodwill of the developers. I will look out to make sure that this project is a good project … and that the community is engaged.”

The developers have pledged to community groups that affordable housing would be part of the mix. They are working with People Inc., which would own the MH Building on Hodge Avenue and use it for about 45 units of affordable senior housing.

Council members are also hearing from supporters of the project who live in the area. As The News reported last week, the presidents of the Bryant-Oakland-Summer Association and Atlantic-West Utica Block Club, along with other residents, sent a letter to the Common Council supporting the project and favoring 13 of the 16 variances the developers requested.

The supporters expressed some reservations in their letter, also. They oppose the demolition of two houses, at 180 and 184 West Utica, a site where new townhouses would be built.

Also on their list: They want the city to at least double the proposed green space, with the city owning that land to ensure it stays publicly accessible.

Green space has been a point of debate throughout the process of planning the development. The Sinatra and Ellicott companies have added more as plans progressed, but not enough to satisfy many in the community.

Sinatra and Ellicott have worked with a neighborhood Project Advisory Board since they were chosen as developers by Kaleida Health in the summer of 2017. They have made many revisions in the plans along the way. Not all members of the community are going to embrace it, and the naysayers must be heard. But the time has come when there should be more shovels in the ground so the project’s promise can be realized. The developers have been responsible. It’s time to move ahead.

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