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City planners praise Jemal, LoFaso projects for highway loop, former malt house

City planners praise Jemal, LoFaso projects for highway loop, former malt house

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interchange aerial

The ramp from the inbound Skyway to the I-190 North circles around an empty parking lot at the interchange of the two highways in downtown Buffalo, Monday, April 6, 2020. 

A plan by Douglas Jemal for a nine-story mixed-use project in the middle of a highway loop and another by developer Fred LoFaso to convert a historic former malt house into apartments are getting good reviews from city planners.

But the Planning Board could not act on either project because other approvals are required first.

Jemal wants to put up a five-level parking ramp with four floors of apartments above it on a city-owned parking lot at 61 Terrace St., surrounded by the highway loop between the Skyway and the Niagara Thruway.

"It’s often referred to as the donut lot, because it looks like the inside of a donut," said attorney Lindsey Haubenreich of Phillips Lytle.

61 Terrace rendering

Renderings of Douglas Jemal's planned nine-story apartment and parking project at 61 Terrace.

The site is also across Pearl Street from Jemal's Seneca One tower project.

"This is a significant part of Douglas’s efforts to create a new and upcoming downtown neighborhood," Haubenreich said. "It’s designed as a complement to the successful Seneca one complex."

The project would include 148 apartments and 300 parking spaces – one for each apartment and another 152 spots for the public. That makes up for the loss of 110 spaces on the existing semi-paved lot. The apartments would include a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units.

Julian Looney of architectural firm Antunovich Associates said the building facade will use insulated metal panels of different textures and "earth tone" colors for the residential section, to blend in with the neighborhood while connecting with both Seneca One and the Pearl Street Brewery & Grill across Seneca Street from the lot. A metal panel screen will be created to shield the building from the elements and traffic.

The board asked Looney to bring specific colors for the next meeting, but Looney noted that it's "subject to what we can get a hold of" because "metal panels have been somewhat scarce through the pandemic."

The project requires four area variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which meets Wednesday to review the request before Jemal can return for site plan approval in two weeks. A special-use permit from the Common Council is also required.

John Kam Malt House-356 Hertel

An aerial view of the John Kam Malt House on Hertel Avenue.

Separately, LoFaso wants to convert the former John Kam Malt and Kiln House at 356 Hertel Ave. into 80 apartments, self-storage units and 14,000 square feet of retail space – potentially including a brewery and restaurant, a bakery, an ice cream shop and a 1,800-square-foot brewer's museum. The apartments will range in size from 500 to 1,200 square feet.

The $20 million project will also include a dog park, dog wash, 89 parking spaces, and a large gathering plaza outside the restaurant. An elevator tower will be added on the north side.

"We really want the site to be inviting to the community," LoFaso said. "We want to build off what Chandler Street has done, but we want to make it more family-friendly."

The building dates from 1901 and is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It also is in the state Brownfield Cleanup Program.

"The team and I have been very sensitive to the historic nature of the site," LoFaso said. "We’ve really tried to respect the fabric of the building."

The project requires an adaptive reuse permit from the Council before it can return to the Board for site plan approval.

"I think this is a great project," said board member Martha Lamparelli.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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