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Fairfield Library Conversion to Start This Summer

Creative Structure Solutions (CSS)  is closer to converting a vacant, historic North Buffalo library into luxury apartments.  David Pawlik’s firm has a contract to purchase the Fairfield Library at 1659 Amherst Street from the City and rehabilitate it into five apartments and a small amount of office space.  
 
The Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday approved variances necessary for the nearly $1 million conversion project.  CSS sought variances for parking, yard requirements and permitted use.
 
The Fairfield Library has been vacant and neglected since 2005.  The library was designed by William Sydney Wicks for the Unitarian Universalist Church. It was built in 1897 and was also occupied later by another congregation before being taken over by the City for a branch Library in the 1920s.  The building’s condition led many to fear the building would be lost due to deferred maintenance and worsening water damage.
 
“It’s in bad shape,” says Pawlik, “but we are well versed and experienced with these types of renovations.”  CSS has been general contractor on a number of adaptive reuse projects and recently completed the rehab of a former church, The Lofts at Warwick, at 700 Parkside Avenue.
FairfieldCSC.pngfairfield library.jpgFive apartments are planned for ‘Fairfield Commons’ including two, two-bedroom units and three, one-bedroom units.  Three of the units will have two levels.  There will also be approximately 1,100 to 1,200 sq.ft. of office space available.
 
A parking lot for six cars is planned, mostly on the Fairfield Avenue side of the property.  The building is located deep on a corner lot, on the rear property lines.
 
“There’s nowhere else to put it,” notes Pawlik.  
FairfieldProperty.png
Pawlik says the exterior of the building will not change.  An effort had been underway to designate the property a local landmark earlier this year but the designation was ultimately not supported by neighborhood associations and the district councilman.  
 
“As at 700 Parkside, we will retain all the significant features that make this a jewel,” says Pawlik.
 
Three public meetings were held to review the redevelopment plans plus two meetings with the Parkside Community Association (PCA).  PCA supports the project and no one spoke in opposition at the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.
 
Pawlik expects a healthy demand for the units noting the Parkside neighborhood location just blocks from the Amherst Street light rail station, the building’s character, and the design of the units.  The apartments at CSS’s The Lofts at Warwick are fully leased with a waiting list notes Pawlik.  There are two prospective tenants for the Fairfield’s commercial space.
 
The project has special meaning for Pawlik who grew up nearby.  
 
“I have a personal connection to the building and neighborhood,” says Pawlik.  “As a kid we used to attend the Fairfield Library and when we lived in North Buffalo our sons attended St. Marks which is approximately three blocks away.  They also utilized Fairfield.”
 
Work is expected to start in the middle of August and units will be ready by March 2013.
 
Says Pawlik, “We’re pretty excited, and ready to move forward.” 
 
Get Connected: Creative Structures Services, 716.882.1226
 
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  • benfranklin

    This is good news.
    Often times commenters (including me) are critical of the way the city handles selling it’s property. In this particular case, it seems to have worked out in the building’s favor.
    By not simply giving the property away, it’s been purchased by a company with the resources and experience to bring it back to life. Good for them, good for the neighborhood.

  • BPS_Rising

    This story makes me wonder what will become of the old North Park library building on Delaware & Hertel. The busy intersection location would make it challenging to convert to residential I imagine. I was disappointed that the building was never reopened as our neighborhood library – the new, tiny strip mall location next to Kmart and a Billiard’s parlor is uninspiring.

  • Brian

    Great news! I drive past this building every day and have always wonder why nobody has done something with it. Great neighborhood and I’m sure these units won’t be on the market long.

  • JSmith

    I agree, the current (temporary?) location of the North Park library is not in a good location, especially for children to walk or bike to on their own. I think a branch library should be on a walkable street like the Crane branch, or tucked away on a side street like the Kenmore or Kenilworth branches.
    I just hope the old North Park building doesn’t end up as a Rite Aid or a drive-through fast food place.
    For what it’s worth, the draft land use plan for the Green Code has it zoned as “civic building”.

  • DMZ

    I was worried that North Park would get torn down and made into a Walgreens. However I can’t imagine it being reused as a library again. I’m sure at some point on a Friday night it will get “rezoned” and knock down. I could be wrong but I heard they closed it because of lead paint, which every house in that neighborhood has. The whole thing seems fishy.

  • Up and coming

    Great story, but can we get a little less fluff in these posts, i’d make you guys more credible.
    “historic North Buffalo library”
    Definition of Historic: Having importance in or influence on history.

  • RaChaCha

    In several ways this is not a good project, and not a good outcome. There was an alternate, credible proposal for the building, which would have restored it to close to its original condition (removing the later addition) for use as a single-family residence. I’ve seen photos of what the building looked like originally, and such a restoration would have been spectacular. The gentlemen proposing that would also have been extremely good neighbors.
    I attended the last public meeting on the options, held at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. It was well attended. While I didn’t count noses, and I got there a bit late, of the speakers I heard more favored the restoration proposal, and more favored the approval of local landmarking than opposed it.
    Three members of the preservation board were there, Chair Paul McDonnell, Tim Tielman, and Eric Lander. I was frankly impressed that for every question put to them about local landmarking, they knocked it out of the park. The developer, on the other hand, mostly just stuck to his mantra that if the building was locally landmarked he would pick up his toys and go home. After much pressing, he finally revealed that on a previous adaptive reuse project, the preservation board hadn’t let him do something he wanted. Something involving windows, I believe.
    Speaking of which, it’s interesting that the developer didn’t mention for this article his plan to replace the perfectly good — and frankly, spectacular — wood windows with VINYL. Yep. I talked with someone who was in the building and examined the windows, who told me that they’re all in eminently rehab-able condition.
    And speaking of people familiar with the building: I talked with several people who live adjacent or in view of this building — some of whom have been taking care of the grounds that have been neglected by the City. To a person they all told me that they were dismayed by the multiple-rental-units-with-parking-lot proposal — especially when there was a second proposal that would have been much more neighborhood-friendly, in their view.
    So given all this, I was dismayed myself when I heard that a day or so after the public meeting I attended I heard that the PCA had voted not to support the local landmarking, and voted to support the less-desirable-in-many-ways development alternative. Based on what I saw and heard personally, their vote flew in the face of the majority, and best-informed, sentiment at the public meeting — and especially against the wishes and interests of the neighbors living closest to the building. And make no mistake — other than the preservation board members who were invited, it was mostly (if not entirely) neighborhood residents speaking.
    And to take that a bit further: if you’re a neighborhood association, should you support the proposal by people willing to be owner-occupants, invest in the neighborhood, be good neighbors, and restore one of the most iconic and beloved buildings in the neighborhood–? Or support a developer who wants to create as many rental units as possible, rip out architectural features, create a multiple-car parking lot where there never was one–? Not only that, a developer who says that if you give the building landmark protection, I’ll immediately walk away–? First of all, that’s a threat — and it also immediately raises the question of why not–? If the developer just wants to have his way with a historic building by one of the city’s most important architects without anyone looking over his shoulder — well, I’d wonder why that would be.
    Just the very limited exposure I had to this situation left a very bad taste in my mouth.

  • STEEL

    If plastic windows go in (which I understand they will be.) the dividers will not actually divide the individual panes of glass as they do now but will simply be a plastic grid laid on top of a monolithic piece of glass. It is the stupidest looking thing which has been accepted as good enough by a public that has been brain washed on a steady diet of cheap cartoon alternates for the last 50 years. If the city was smart they would have had a backbone and demanded original wood windows in exchange for the parking.

  • JSmith

    I looked at the Zoning Board of Appeals minutes today, and it’s kind of shocking how many variances for things like front parking pads, excessively high fences, etc., are granted with no explanation or defense. I think some of the zoning code is out-of-date and foolish, but still, what’s the point of having a code if you’ll approve any variance that is requested?
    I think the Buffalo Green Code is going to have to come with an overhaul to the Zoning Board of Appeals procedures if it’s going to be of any benefit.

  • RaChaCha

    Well, exactly. Especially in this building — originally a church — the windows are among the most important character-defining architectural features. “Grids” on new glass will irretrievably alter the look and character.
    At the recent Sustainable Preservation workshop I attended, led by your very able architecture school classmate Barbara Campagna, there was extensive discussion of window rehab vs. replacement.
    BTW, I’m hoping to soon post the article I drafted about that excellent workshop — if we could just hold off the preservation crises du jour for a few days at least so I can get some work done here, people!! Thank you!!
    For my money, the best outcome would have been for Parkside
    Community Association to support the local landmarking, then call the developer’s bluff. Let the developer opt to reuse the building in a way that would do right by both it and the neighborhood, or walk away — his choice. He wasn’t the only fish in this particular sea.

  • sobuffbillsfan

    I see your point, and that of the neighborhood association. I however tend to disagree with the assesment that a single family residence is a better option. I’m pretty familiar with this area living right over the tracks from the vernon triangle for a year.
    I mean no disrespect to the people that live there but this is an area teetering and could go either way. Its a neighborhood in need of investment and an important buffer between what is going on, on the other side of main st. and some of the priciest real estate in Buffalo in Central Park. I know this neighborhood is struggling because I tried to purchase a house on vernon and couldn’t get a mortgage approve at the asking price. It had nothing to do with my financials it was the location, assesment, and trending sale prices.
    I think 5 upscale apartments and an office, with a responsible developer and ownership can do more to stablize this block than a single family conversion. You are bring 5 households with income, an office with incomes that presumably to not live there but will be spending money, along with whatever clientele they will have.
    5 People who may end up loveing it and buying a house in the vernon triangle if they are so incline.
    Its anyones guess how this turns out, I just feel this project has a much larger upside and multiplier effect than the other.

  • RaChaCha

    If you were at any of the neighborhood meetings on this, I’d love to hear your impressions.
    I agree that we don’t know exactly how things will turn out in the long run for this project and for the block. But we DO know that we won’t get the restored building, we’ll lose the wood windows, we’ll gain plastic windows, we’ll get a new block-wall parking lot instead of the corner garden the other buyers wanted to put in (and invite the neighbors to enjoy), and we won’t necessarily get a proudly restored building open for neighborhood tours as the other buyers promised. We DO know we’ll end up with a building full of tenants, owned by a developer who does not live there.
    And we also know that everything hinges on a developer who actually threatened to walk unless he got what he wanted: parking variances, fencing variances, and carte blanche to alter the historic character of the building without even having to discuss it with the preservation board. The quality of the work, the quality of the materials, the quality of the tenants, the quality of the maintenance, the quality of the property management, the quality of the groundskeeping — all dependent on a developer who says “my way, or I walk.”
    Well…good luck with that.

  • sobuffbillsfan

    I didn’t attend any of the meetings, and have recently bought a place on the West Side (another fringe hood and street with its very own set of challenges). My comment was really my oustider point of view for just that commentary. I understand your points, but I was just trying to look at it more from an investment sense, what will bring more $$$ into that area.
    I think we can both agree either project is better than letting it sit there. I really hope whatever happens it succeeds. I was fasinated with the vernon triangle while i lived in parkside. The proximity to the park, hertel, and the Amherst subway station make this are to me rip for young professionals that want to own rather than rent.
    I’m encourage by what seems to be a passionate group of neighbors as well. Its interesting to know that people took it upon themselves to up keep the property in contrast with todays article in the paper about the city not mowing vacant lots. Good things happen to people who help themselves.

  • RaChaCha

    Indeed I agree with you. I also wish the local landmarking had happened some time ago, so that it hadn’t become an issue this year (there was a reason it didn’t happen before, that I don’t recall).
    What I know of Vernon Triangle, it has some things in common with Oxford Square (a bit closer to home), but not as challenged. The folks I met who live near Fairfield seem like the best folks anyone could want to have for neighbors!
    I’d misread your earlier comment to read that you had, in fact, purchased in Vernon Triangle — thanks for running it by me again to clarify. Mind if I ask which west side neighborhood you bought into–?

  • sobuffbillsfan

    I live in the “Vermont Triangle” neighborhood now. Not far from Urban Roots.

  • whatever

    RaCha, according to this, the other proposal to use it as one big single unit was withdrawn.
    http://www.buffalospree.com/Buffalo-Spree/May-2012/Preservation-Ready-Updates/
    “For a while it looked like the Fairfield had two competing developers interested in the reuse of the former library for residential purposes, but one development team—Tom Breen and Steven Fabian, college professors and Allentown residents—has withdrawn its proposal.”
    Maybe the multi-unit proposal is the only willing purchaser at this point, and nobody is willing to do those things your comment lists or proceed with restrictions that landmark status would bring. If so, then going ahead with this sounds smarter for City Hall to do than waiting more years and years hoping that somebody would.

  • RaChaCha

    Thanks for sharing the link — hadn’t seen that. Has me puzzled, though, as — like I said above — the single-unit proposal was very much in play at the meeting I attended, the proposers present personally to promote and defend it. Then I heard that within a day or two PCA made the decisions I mentioned. Perhaps someone will weigh in with clarification.
    The suggestion that local landmarking for the building created the risk it would continue to sit vacant was a false dichotomy that was a subtext running through the public meeting I attended, although I don’t recall it being explicitly stated.

  • Up and coming

    Do you have a job, or do you just go to public meetings all day?

  • manski

    The PCA was pretty clear in their announcement regarding opposing landmarking the property that they decided to oppose it because CSS was prepared to purchase and move forward with development, while the other was more of a proposal. Sometimes in the real world compromise is needed, and in my opinion in this case it’s the correct thing to do.

  • eliz

    RaChaCha,
    I wrote that piece and the way I learned they withdrew their proposal was via Facebook. A message from one of the single-home developers was posted in the Preservation Ready Sites group.
    I am not sure of the ethics of posting Facebook messages; it was not private, but then it’s not quite public, right? So I’ll just say that the words used were “timing not right.”
    I did not have the impression that the lack of local designation or the meeting you attended had much to do with their withdrawing the proposal.
    So then I have to wonder–how much longer would the building languish if we did not have this other proposal?
    Elizabeth Licata

  • RaChaCha

    It was an evening meeting. Thanks for your question.

  • RaChaCha

    Elizabeth, thank you for that info, which I hadn’t seen (the Preservation Ready Sites FB page cannot be seen by non-FB users).
    As to whether the building would have languished without this particular developer’s proposal and stipulations, it’s hard to judge without knowing more, but I don’t think so. As to why, a few things especially struck me about this situation. First, the community members who spoke at the meeting and the neighbors I talked with all felt that the City was a horrible steward of the building & the property, and did a terrible job of marketing it. That would be consistent with what I’ve seen elsewhere. Also, that the previous landmarking attempt that was stopped was not picked up again until recently. I know it’s hard to track those loose ends when so much of preservation here is crisis management, but frankly this building should have been landmarked a long time ago.
    But the biggest thing is that, if landmarking had gone forward, availability of preservation tax credits could have been a major selling point in marketing this building to someone who would have done right by it. And speaking of doing right, I forgot to mention above that I understand the developer’s plan includes removal of all the original cedar shingles (most of which I’ve heard are in good condition and require only spot replacement) to be replaced by a different kind of siding. That’s a huge impact on the character of the building — not to mention an unnecessary waste.
    Again, I think there could have been a much better outcome for this building and the neighborhood, which is why I’m not in the cheering section for this particular development.

  • Up and coming

    I hear you talk about public meetings all the time, I’m sure not all of them are at night.

  • RaChaCha

    Um, well, I’m a _member of_ “the public.”
    Dad, is that you–??

  • eliz

    Well, you need the national designation for the tax credits. Local will not help with that. I don’t remember hearing about a push for national, but I could be wrong. The building is just outside the Parkside national district.
    And the city is invariably a bad steward–I am not sure this has worked to the ultimate benefit of any building they have owned. That’s just a given.
    I take your point about the removal of original materials, but when I talked to my sources, I did hear from those who were eager to see the building saved and occupied and were willing to accept compromises so that could happen. And I heard from those who were not willing.

  • RaChaCha

    Yep — glossed over the differences in the types of landmarkings & their implications. It can be a longer process to pursue State/National designation, but my thinking is that if it had cleared the local landmarking hurdle, then State/National would have been a no-brainer for a developer.
    Local landmarking would have meant whoever reused the building would have been working with the preservation board on a preservation-sensitive project, anyway. And that’s not necessarily an overly restrictive or punitive thing like some developers portray it — from the many preservation board meetings I’ve attended, I know that more often its a conversation about options and education process which usually results in sensible, common-sense outcomes. (I know you get this stuff, Elizabeth, but for the benefit of others reading.)
    So I would think that a developer would conclude that if they’re going to be doing a project that will already essentially meet State & National preservation guidelines, why not get the building State/National landmarked and take advantage of the financial incentives available. And under that scenario, pursuing the State/National landmarking and the preservation tax credits then just becomes a cost of doing business to be written into the financial plan.

  • RaChaCha

    Your comment about the bifurcation of opinion on this development (presumably among neighborhood folks, but perhaps also among preservationists) gets to my frustration at how often the narrative of these preservation situations becomes the creation of a false dichotomy. “Either let this entity with money and/or connections do what they will with this building (or piece of public property) or else it will continue to sit and languish!” Or, “Hey, didn’t you notice someone stamped ‘PROGRESS’ on that document, so don’t bother to read the fine print or sleep on it, just sign on the dotted line — and fast! before they withdraw this most generous offer.” Unfortunately, the first I personally knew about this situation was a few hours before the public meeting I attended, so I never really had the chance to do any writing that might have helped change the narrative.
    Apropos of this, a couple of days ago the Burchfield-Penney & Graycliff hosted Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscapes Foundation, who is one of my favorite wholistic thinkers about preservation. He’s an old friend of Tony Bannon, and I heard him speak a couple of times at the George Eastman House when I lived in Rochester. In his talk this week, he reiterated the need for preservationists to get out front in developing the narrative on preservation issues, lest the media or someone else control it. And the narrative, all too often, paints a false dichotomy, and paints preservationists as obstructionists and angry enemies of progress.
    One of the reasons this situation resonates so strongly with me, and why I’ve taken so much time to comment on it, is that I left the public meeting expecting a very different outcome. The counter-proposal was a good one, landmarking was so well explained and defended by the preservation board members present that I had to reign in the impulse to cheer, and the most rational and thoughtful of the neighborhood speakers were overwhelmingly and articulately friendly to landmarking and the counter-proposal. Also, as I’ve said above, the counter-proposal would have been much better for the neighborhood in a number of ways, and the developer didn’t seem to come off well with his overt, my-way-or-the-highway stance.
    So while maybe in the end the driver of PCA’s decision, and the councilmember’s decision, was the withdrawal of the counter-proposal (as your FB info suggests), leaving them feeling boxed in, their decision strikes me as just as much a victory for the narrative (false, in my view) that the developer’s proposal represented the only hope for progress.

  • NorthBuffalo20

    RaChaCha is misrepresenting what happened at the public meeting at St. Mary’s and the opinions of the neighbors. In fact, the comments were roughly split between favoring the private developers and David Pawlik’s company. Many neighbors supported Pawlik’s proposal.
    Two further points are important. First, the private developers (even if they hadn’t withdrawn their proposal) could have bought the building without local landmark status. There was a false impression at the meeting that we were deciding between the two proposals. But really, we were only there to weigh in on whether the building should receive local landmark status. At most, about 25% of the comments at the meeting spoke explicitly in favor of giving this status to the building. Second, my impression was that those that did speak explicitly in favor of local landmark status did not live in the immediate neighborhood (the vernon triangle or across the street from the building).
    It would be great if every architectural detail were beautifully preserved. The building would be a wonderful museum, music school, or (!) library. But let’s return to reality. The building is in poor shape and has been vacant since 2005. I’m thrilled it’s being restored by Pawlik’s company. The PCA did not ignore the opinions of the neighborhood and did the right thing for the neighborhood.

  • RaChaCha

    I see this is your first comment — welcome to the conversation, and to Buffalo Rising!
    I’m not misrepresenting anything, nor representing anything, either — except for my impressions and what I heard directly. That includes the statements I heard at the meeting, the reactions of those around me (which you may or may not have heard), what people told me after the meeting (in informal conversations, not with me interviewing them for BRO), and what I’ve heard subsequently from those in the neighborhood whom I’ve talked with. I happen to have an old friend who is a neighbor of the building, but was not at the public meeting. So some of what I’ve heard you haven’t. And likewise, living in the neighborhood as I gather you do, you’ve certainly heard things I haven’t. This is from RaChaCha public citizen, not RaChaCha reporting for Buffalo Rising.
    Granted I wasn’t at the meeting in time to hear any initial statements, but I think I have enough experience in community affairs to get a sense of the feeling in a community meeting. And on the landmarking question, I can tell you that whatever may have been said at the beginning of the meeting, the overwhelming sense I got was that people felt that the landmarking question was entirely tied up with the developer’s project. One of the reasons I discussed narrative above is that it’s all too common for that tie to be in people’s minds when preservation issues are discussed. In fact, that’s the case with another major Buffalo preservation issue playing out now.
    As to the opinions of the “immediate” neighbors, I have no even remotely representative sample. But at the risk of tying together two things like I grumped about above, of the folks I talked with who are in closest proximity and connection with the property, they would have preferred the owner-occupant proposal over the developer’s proposal, and were either in favor of or not against the local landmarking.
    As for “reality” I think you’re making one of my points about “narrative” better than I could have, because what you say,

    It would be great if every architectural detail were beautifully preserved. The building would be a wonderful museum, music school, or (!) library. But let’s return to reality. The building is in poor shape and has been vacant since 2005.

    sounds like something I hear in almost every preservation discussion. And while not meaning any disrespect, it’s always from someone who wants to opt for a lesser option either because they think it’s the only option or because they’re only “allowed” to consider the options that have been put in front of them on a given day. As if the restaurant can only make the food that happens to be on the chalkboard when you walk in.
    You don’t have to be involved in preservation too long before you can almost write the script: “I’m all for preservation. In fact, I love x, y, and z type buildings. But I’m also a realist. This building is in bad shape [lately, the word ‘deplorable’ has been in vogue in Buffalo], and has been vacant since ____. We should be thrilled that this [developer, entity] is ready to spend their own money. It’s time to move forward and do the right thing for the community. We need to make progress [optional].”
    Supporting local landmarking wouldn’t have cost the neighborhood a nickel, and would have assured that whatever the reuse of the building it would have been done right. If this developer had walked, that would have been his choice. Other developers could have taken on the project, perhaps with the help of preservation tax credits, and almost certainly without making “I’ll take my toys and go home” threats.
    Now the building will be needlessly mangled, lose much of its character and charm, and it didn’t need to be that way. That was the right decision for the neighborhood–? Maybe, but I’m not buying it. And based on what I’ve heard, a lot of the residents aren’t, either.

  • Dagner

    My biggest concern about the proposal is allowing the parking lot. I question whether the renderings are accurate in scale. They seemed to have changed since the PCA meeting where I pointed out how “freaking hideous” the parking was. They had even used an evening setting for the renderings to obscure the visual impact of the parking.
    The parking will hurt the character of the entire neighborhood, which I care more about than the individual building. It will look like a corner gas station and not a residential area.