Architect Michael Conroe has been working out of his Orchard Park home for the last three years after starting his new firm, Elev8 Architecture.
But now that he has 13 employees, he's ready to seek out a more permanent headquarters. And he found just the spot, on the West Side of Buffalo, around the corner from his former home.
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Conroe wants to relocate his firm to a 10,866-square-foot former warehouse at 451 Vermont St. He already has the building – now owned by Chris Wood – and a vacant lot next door under contract, and hopes to renovate it for his new use.
"We're a growing architectural firm that is looking for a space in the city," he said. "I used to live on the West Side, so I'm excited to go back to it."
The long and slender building is only partially used on the first floor, by an electrical contractor, for an office, shop and fitness center, but the second floor is empty. "It's a pretty dilapidated property," Conroe said.
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The architect is proposing an adaptive reuse of the two-story masonry structure, converting it into office space and 10 one-bedroom apartments, with an outdoor terrace in the middle of the second floor. Plans call for 3,012 square feet of space for Elev8 and three apartments on the ground floor, with the other seven apartments upstairs. A vaulted ceiling in one portion of the building will allow for several of the upper units to have lofts.
The outdoor space would be used as an amenity for tenants and office staff, along with four parking spaces. The building's facade would be entirely redone, with the addition of more windows.
"The neighborhood would be strengthened by taking a long abandoned and neglected property and creating a small mixed-use building," Conroe wrote in his variance application.
The site is zoned as neighborhood residential, but Conroe needed a variance – which he received from the Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday – to allow more density in the building than otherwise permitted. By itself, the property with the building would only have been allowed 4.5 apartments, but adding and merging the second property next door would have permitted 8.5 units. So the variance was for the extra 1.5 apartments, Conroe argued.
In the application, he said he needs the additional units to afford the project, which still requires site plan approval from the Planning Board and a special-use permit from the Common Council.
"If we cannot get 10 units, the renovations are too expensive to make the project work," Conroe wrote. "We have tried for less units but cannot find a bank to provide a loan."