By James Fink  |  Buffalo Business First  |  11/17/16

Developers defend Elmwood Village projects

Residents and businesses in the Elmwood Village area are less than pleased with the plan by Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. to create a gateway, mixed-use series of buildings in the Elmwood Avenue/Bidwell Parkway area.

To some, the design is jarring. Others are uncomfortable with what could be a positive transformation for the neighborhood.

The resistance is understandable. There have been recent developments along Elmwood Avenue that are better suited for Transit Road or Niagara Falls Boulevard than one of Buffalo’s favorite retailing and residential districts. The street’s character comes in large part from its unique charm.

Ciminelli officials and their development team, including HHL Architects, empathize with what Elmwood Avenue means to Buffalo. The design for the $40 million privately funded investment wasn’t done in a vacuum.

The recently released design came from input received in multiple meetings with stakeholders. The design has a Georgetown feel to it and would replace the hodge-podge collection of buildings between the now-closed Bullfeathers restaurant and Bidwell Parkway.

“We live here. We work here. We respect Elmwood,” said Matt Meier, HHL principal and the project’s chief architect.

Since Ciminelli unveiled the new design Nov. 9, the brickbats have been flying. Compliments have been few. Criticism is fueled by the protectionist attitude that prevails along Elmwood Avenue.

“Elmwood Village is one of Buffalo’s most distinctive neighborhoods, and the intersection of Elmwood and Bidwell is arguably its heart,” said Jessie Fisher, Preservation Buffalo Niagara executive director. “Through the years as our city has grown and changed, we have heard from residents and business owners alike who want Elmwood to develop in such a way that respects what makes it so unique. Historic preservation encourages cities to build on the and new buildings — working together to fashion dense, walkable, and thriving streets-helps assets they have — unleashing the enormous power and potential of older buildings to improve health, affordability, prosperity, and well-being. Ultimately, though, it’s the mix of old and new buildings — working together to fashion dense, walkable, and thriving streets-helps us achieve a more prosperous, sustainable, and healthier future.”

Ciminelli faces it now. In a few weeks, Chason Affinity will feel it when the company presents plans for a 57-unit townhouse complex at Elmwood and Forest avenues. That, too, is a design created after several community meetings.

Ciminelli also will look at a continued round of criticism when it brings the QueensLight plan for the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo site next year.

“We were extremely sensitive to issues and concerns raised by people during our meetings,” said Dennis Penman, Ciminelli executive vice president. “We are absolutely sensitive to the fabric of Elmwood and Bidwell.”

QueensLight takes into account key issues such as parking, its scale and scope on the neighborhood, and preservation of some buildings, including one Potomac Avenue houseturned-retail and apartment complex.

Approximately 97 apartments and condos are proposed along with 12,000 square feet of retail and 150 parking spaces. A small park is planned along Potomac Avenue.

The Ciminelli project is one of more than $600 million worth of public- and private-sector investments underway or planned within a three-mile stretch of Elmwood Avenue beginning near the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and heading south to Bryant Street and the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo area.

“What we created speaks to the Elmwood Village design standards,” said Amber Holycross, Ciminelli senior project manager.

Yet, criticism continues to mount and that concerns Ciminelli officials.

“We specifically heard what the neighborhood wanted and we designed for it,” said Adam Walters, a Phillips Lytle LLP partner and Ciminelli’s attorney