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Zoning variances approved for controversial West Side arts campus

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

Buffalo's Zoning Board of Appeals has granted waivers to help a planned arts campus at Richmond and West Ferry. The project, which saw plans fall apart previously, has raised concerns among neighbors.

The fiscal plan for the Rosanna Elizabeth Visual and Performing Arts Campus called for building an art gallery in an old garage on the site and nine apartments on top. The old garage turned out to be ready to fall down, so zoning variances were needed to allow building a completely new structure.

Developer Sam Savarino said the garage was "built with virtually no foundations underneath it. So, there's no way that anything can be built on top of this and no way that any part of this can be saved."

Variances have been granted to allow for changes in the building plan.

"This is a commercial enterprise in a residential neighborhood," said neighbor Heather Connor. 

"We're very concerned for today for an art gallery, which is a commercial enterprise. Even though these apartments are supposed to be run by a non-profit, it is a money-making enterprise to support the church."

Others are concerned that building nine apartments on top of an art gallery will make the new building too tall for the neighborhood.

Rachel Heckl is among the principals involved in the project.

"Our clients and our partners that are incoming persons and residents putting all things together in a layered model and there was no other way to do it than to take the risk and make the investment to stabilize the building as best we could and do exploratory work right away to understand how many layers and professions were required to push through," Heckl said.

The $11 million dollar project calls for rehearsal and performing space along with meeting rooms and a recording studio.

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.