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Decision delayed on controversial Elmwood Village project

Overwhelmed by the material from nearly three hours of public hearing yesterday, the city's Zoning Board of Appeals tabled a decision on the planned Chason Affinity project at Elmwood and Forest.

The long hearing showed a deep dichotomy in the population of the Elmwood Village over the project, with a lot of support and a lot of opposition.

Chason Affinity's proposal is a four-story condominium project with retail space and 97 underground parking spaces. The building is higher and wider than allowed under the new Green Code and the developer wants variances.

Carl Dennis told the hearing it is all just an excuse to make money from a project bigger than allowed.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
An unusually large crowd gathered in Council Chambers for Wednesday's meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

"The question for the board is: Is that kind of economic reason a satisfactory reason? Is maximum profit the rule that will allow them to get a variance? If it is, the Green Code means nothing. It's just a piece of paper," Dennis said.

That corner has been an issue for decades, as proposed developments have come and gone. Even this project has been cut back substantially because of limits in the Green Code specifically for the Elmwood Village, including lower height rules than in much of the rest of the city.

"Elmwood needs to succeed economically and this will assist it in doing so," said Joseph Sedita, who lives near the proposed development. "We have an opportunity now for a really beautiful gateway, not by a predator but by a company that has been hugely solicitous of the feelings and the opinions of the neighborhood."

If the developer can prove a hardship from Green Code rules, the Zoning Board could issue the variances and put the residential project closer to construction, replacing a dozen very old and worn structures.

An unsigned internal memo in City Hall recommends the variances and Council member Joel Feroleto appeared to support the plan, not popular with the opponents in the audience. Assemblyman Sean Ryan has been a vocal opponent of the project, arguing that its size is not in scale with the adjacent Elmwood neighborhood.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.