New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan is teaming with Preservation Buffalo Niagara to call for modifications to City laws to help prevent the continued demolition of buildings in historic districts. Ryan joined PBN Executive Director Jessie Fisher at a press conference this morning to press for the changes.
Recently, Ellicott Development applied for a demolition permit for a house located at 787 Elmwood Avenue, a contributing building to the Elmwood Village West Historic District. Currently, the city of Buffalo Department of Permits and Inspection Services believes they are required to issue a demolition permit 30 days after the permit is applied for. This 30-day time frame doesn’t give the Buffalo Preservation Board and City Council enough time to consider a building for landmark status before the building is demolished.
The current process gives owners seeking demolition an insurmountable advantage and has led to the demolition of nearly two dozen historic properties in the Elmwood Village. This system does not follow the New York State suggested model that recommends providing enough time for a fair hearing before a demolition permit is issued. This statewide best practice allows for the contribution of the building to the historic fabric of the community to be weighed equally against the developers’ request for demolition.
Proposed changes to the current city policy would allow for the Preservation Board and Common Council to hold the necessary public hearings to determine the building’s contribution to the historic district before a permit for changes that would impact the exterior of the property under consideration is issued. This would allow owners to continue to work on improving the structure without impacting the historic nature of the building.
According to Ryan and PBN, continued demolitions in the Elmwood Village Historic Districts could also lead to a loss of access to tax credits for homeowners. The Elmwood Village East and West Historic Districts allow owners access to the New York State Historic Homeowner Tax Credit Program, which covers 20 percent of rehabilitation costs for owner-occupied historic homes. If the alarmingly high number of demolitions occurring in the Elmwood Village continues, it is possible the state will no longer offer this tax credit to people living in the neighborhood.
The Planning Board will begin its review of Ellicott Development’s 787 Elmwood proposal today and the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider the project on Wednesday. The three-story multi-family residential structure would include 14 apartments with off-street covered parking. Designed by Abstract Architecture, the exterior would include masonry on the ground floor of the primary elevation, along with clapboard siding and composite ornamental trim on the upper floors. Several of the residential units on the 2nd and 3rd floors would include covered patios.
Besides a demolition permit and site plan approval, requested Variances needed for the project include:
- Increased front yard setback [0 ft. maximum permitted vs. 12 ft. proposed].
- Reduced ground story height [15 ft. minimum height required vs. 12 ft. proposed].
- Reduced ground floor transparency for the front façade [70% minimum transparency required vs. 61% proposed].