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West Ferry Street Demo and Mixed-Use Project Stirs Opposition

The owner of 531 West Ferry Street is seeking approval to demolish the circa-1890 structure as part of a planned arts campus.  The property is adjacent to the former Richmond Methodist-Episcopal Church that is being converted to the Rosanna Elizabeth Visual and Performing Arts Center and is a contributing resource to the Elmwood Village West Historic District.  Demolition would provide fire lane access and onsite parking for the arts center and lay the groundwork to expand an existing building at the rear of the site.

More on the demolition from a cover letter from Rachel Heckl, lead partner of 467 Richmond Avenue LLC, to the Preservation Board:

I respectfully submit this request to approve the demolition of a dilapidated residential building located at the east side of our property to provide fire lane access and onsite parking for the arts campus under construction.

The structure is adjacent to the former Richmond Methodist-Episcopal Church. It has been mostly vacant for over eight years. The roof and the foundation have been deteriorating for years. There are extant code violations from prior owners. The demolition of this deteriorated house will aid the development and restoration of the Church which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The current alley between this structure and Church provides access to the rear of the property which will contain an art gallery and eight apartments. This alley does not meet Fire Department’s requirement for access/turnaround for the future arts campus. The stated preference of the fire chief is demolition of this building to provide compliant access. The opening of this space will also serve to provide limited onsite parking for the arts campus. This has been highlighted at community meetings as a strong desire by the neighbors to ease strain on neighborhood parking.

After consultation with the City of Buffalo code enforcement, neighborhood representatives, and our design and construction team, we believe this request for demolition is our best option to meeting the various stakeholder priorities.

A garage at the rear of the site is proposed to be expanded.  It would grow by two floors and contain a ground floor gallery and eight upper floor apartments.  The proposed expansion does not comply with setback and height requirements and the gallery is a use not allowed in the zoning district.

The Preservation Board tabled the demolition proposal at its meeting yesterday.

Neighbors are not pleased with the mixed-use building proposed for the site according to a press release sent out today:

Neighbors are opposed to the most recent building proposal by the Rosanna Elizabeth Visual and Performing Arts Center (REVPAC ). They will attend the Planning Board meeting on Monday 9/11 at 4:00 to object to the three-story, 41′ high, art gallery / 8 unit apartment building in the middle of the block along an alley serving residents of Richmond/W. Ferry/Highland. Many have sent letters regarding the proposal for the property listed as 527 W. Ferry, and the neighbors will provide further documentation and a collective statement to the planning board outlining why this proposal must be denied. 

These arguments include:

  1. It is not in compliance with the residential density Green Code ordinance
  2. There has not been a full SEQRA environmental review for this site
  3. Substantial environmental impact on neighbors
  4. Lack of proper process and notice
  5. Commercial use permit not in compliance with Green Code 
  6. Lack of overall plan for entire arts center campus

A survey has been presented to the Board Chair documenting 42 neighbor’s concerns on how this structure would affect the use and enjoyment of their property and impact the neighborhood.

Background: The REVPAC foundation that has begun renovation of the Richmond /Ferry Church (467 Richmond) says they need this mixed use $1.8 million new build on an adjacent property to the church to fund and continue their $12 million renovation project.  Nearly all of the neighbors support the church renovation project but many neighbors oppose this new three-story plan that would be over 150 feet away from the public street and abut several backyards.

The Planning Board tabled the plans for the rear building at 527 West Ferry Street on July 31.  Brad Wales says the project has been modified to help address neighborhood concerns:

Prior to the Planning Board Hearing on July 31st, we held a neighborhood meeting hosted by the Shanks in the same #533 Back Yard during the evening of Wednesday July 26th; approximately 25-30 people attended. In response to comments at that meeting, the following design improvements are now included: 

  1. We lowered the overall building height by 2’-6”
  2. We are maintaining a brick base on all four sides, despite cost and construction obstacles
  3. We re-designed the west elevation to provide similar vertical proportions as neighboring houses
  4. We can include interior shading devices to reduce night light shining on properties to the west
  5. We are varying terrace railing heights to create more privacy for neighbors where desired
  6. We pledged these aesthetic choices will be developed in an on-going dialogue with neighbors
  7. We will provide an additional plywood wall mass layer to reduce Sound Transmission
  8. We will partner with PUSH on landscaping design to manage stormwater and create permaculture opportunities with the hope of providing additional gardening space for neighbors
  9. Neighbors suggested that demolition of the existing house at 529 West Ferry could create a few new parking spaces. Design process & potential design elements were discussed including a new landscaped artisan fence with trellis, and low lighting. 

Since it was agreed that this would be in the community’s best interests, a Demolition Permit for 529 West Ferry was filed.

Stay tuned.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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