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Buffalo News: Go ahead for a transformation

With approval from city planners, Ellicott Development is proceeding with conversion of school site into apartments, as well as two other projects

BY: Jonathan D. Epstein (mailto:jepstein@buffnews.com)

Ellicott Development is proceeding with its conversion of the former School 56 on West Delavan Avenue into a new apartment building, and plans to seek tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, after the Buffalo Planning Board gave its assent to the project this week.

The redevelopment of the former Frederick Law Olmsted School at 722 West Delavan was one of two Ellicott construction projects approved by the board this week. A third received a needed zoning variance Wednesday, which were required before planners could act on the proposal itself.

Besides the school, the Buffalo­based developer, owned by the father­and­son team of Carl and William Paladino, wants to build an industrial warehouse facility at 246 Dingens St. and replace a smaller and older Rite Aid drugstore with a new store at 789 Tonawanda St.

The firm intends to apply for mortgage recording and construction sales tax exemptions from ECIDA for the warehouse and school projects, and may also seek a property tax break for the warehouse, said director of development Thomas M. Fox. No applications have been filed with the agency yet, however, and no breaks are being sought for the Rite Aid.

Despite the objections of a couple of neighbors, planners Wednesday gave their assent for the apartment building, after the developer incorporated earlier feedback from board members and a community meeting it held a week ago with Common Council Member Michael J. LoCurto of the Delaware District.

Ellicott is proposing to turn the 76,000­square­foot, four­story building into 33 market­rate apartments, plus 5,000 square feet of space for nonprofit use at the basement level and on the first floor. The apartments range in size from 560 square feet to 1,600, with a mixture of studio, one­, two­ and even three­bedroom options. The developer is holding discussions with "a couple of groups" about the nonprofit space, but hasn't reached any agreements. The project will also include 81 parking spaces, including some that would be reserved as backup valet parking for Ellicott's proposed new restaurant at 905 Elmwood Ave.

Jonathan D. Epstein

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The century­old brick building's exterior and structure will basically remain the same, as Ellicott is working with the state Historic Preservation Office to have it listed as a historic building. The masonry "is in great shape," as are the current windows, so they will be reused, while the parking lot in the rear is reconfigured and restriped, Fox said. The only change is a new elevator shaft to be constructed as an addition in the northwest corner, next to the mechanical room and matching the building's red brick appearance, with a new first­floor entry for the apartments.

"It's a lovely building, and we as a neighborhood hope that the developer will do it justice," said neighbor Wendy Pierce.

Neighbors such as Pierce had expressed concerns about excess noise, car emissions and lighting, as well

as landscaping, fencing and the impact on traffic and parking. They noted that the residential use will be a big change at night, compared to when there was a school. So Ellicott officials adjusted their green space, lighting and fencing plans, added architectural features to the corners of the building, and changed the traffic flow in and out of the parking lot. "We feel like we have a better proposal now," Fox said.

Pierce argued for more time for neighbors to talk and meet with Ellicott for additional changes, but board members and a LoCurto representative said Ellicott had already done what was requested. "We asked the developer to hold a public meeting. That meeting took place, and the concerns of the community were aired," Planning Board Chairman James K. Morrell said. "All the concerns that were raised at our public meeting and the community meeting, the applicant has addressed." City planners this week also approved the developer's proposal for a one­story, prefabricated warehouse building on Dingens, with rear loading docks and 108 parking spaces. The taupe­colored building would be constructed primarily of corrugated metal, plus a 4­foot­high architectural block bulkhead at the base, decorative brick pillars at either side of three storefront entrances, and a black metal band across the top of those doorways.

The 100,000­square­foot "spec" facility does not have any tenants lined up, but comes "in response to market demands that we're seeing the last few years with the lack of construction of this type of space in the city of Buffalo," Fox said.

Located on the north side of Dingens and east of James Casey Drive, the 6­acre site is partly wooded, and adjacent to the Department of Motor Vehicles building, in an existing commercial park zone. Entrances would be on both Casey and Dingens, and new landscaping would be added.

Still awaiting a final go­ahead is a planned new one­story Rite Aid at Tonawanda and Ontario streets in Riverside. The proposal entails an 11,115­square­foot brick store with a drive­thru and 49 parking spaces, heavily landscaped with trees and a 4­foot­tall decorative aluminum fence.

The property was assembled from 11 parcels, including several homes, the former Riverside Men's Shop and the existing Rite Aid, which is about half the size of the proposed new one. The store will continue operating throughout the phased demolition and construction process, and Ellicott officials have been meeting with neighbors to get input and deal with any concerns, including at least twice recently. A Dollar General store lies just to the north, while some homes and a former school­turned­apartment building are also nearby.

"We've been looking at this project for 10 to 12 years now, and finally we have a plan that can work and we have Rite Aid on board," William Paladino said. "We had talks with the neighborhood that went rather well."

The project received a necessary zoning variance Wednesday, but still needs other approvals. During an earlier Planning Board meeting, Paladino said the developer will "look to further develop the site along Ontario with additional commercial structures" in the future, based on community interest and depending on what space is available. He noted that the nearby former Schmidt's Plumbing building was not acquired, but that if it became available, "we will take a look at that and build another building."

email: jepstein@buffnews.co