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$40M student housing proposed for Main-Hertel corner

A section of North Buffalo will be very different if a massive new apartment complex is built. The property at the corner of Main  Street and Hertel Avenue is working through the city's regulatory process.

Because some costs are unclear, there is not a solid cost yet until the brownfield cleanup is completed for the project at 2929 Main  Street. It is approaching $40 million for what is being called The Rails on Main.

It is complicated because there are old buildings, an enveloping abandoned rail line and a strangely shaped site. When complete, however, it will house 322 graduate student apartments and some commercial space.

It will be obvious to passers-by because Main and Hertel will become a four-way intersection for an entrance to the apartments. Lawyer Marc Romanowski said developers are pushing hard.

"If we can begin environmental remediation this summer in earnest and probably see the bulk of the work begin by the fall and, depending on staging and phases, see construction maybe before the end of the year but certainly by spring," he said.

The plan before the city Planning Board Monday calls for students to start moving in for the fall semester in 2019.

There is some opposition, especially to requested variances to the Green Code, including restrictions on removing trees and questions about rain runoff and sewer service. Activist Daniel Sack was specifically critical of any variance to remove many of the trees on the rear of the property at an abandoned rail embankment.

"In the event an onsite established tree of a minimum six-inch diameter is removed under any circumstances during the course of construction activity, the requirements apply," Sack said. "So Green Code, greenfield cleanup, whatever it is, notwithstanding, you need to replace tree inches unless they get a variance."

Developers said there are some massive trees in that rear section and it would take many new trees to match those old trees.

There also were questions about willingness of residents to walk to the LaSalle Metro Rail station, while developers say hundreds of Bennett High School students do it every school day. Romanowski said there is no question residents will use public transit.

"This site, because of its location, I strongly disagree with the one commenter on whether or not people will use transit," he said. "This site was selected specifically because we think it's going to be excellent for transit users. We already are seeing a 40 or 50 percent reduction in traffic flow over a baseline set of projects just because of its proximity and availability to public transit."

The developers said residents will be those who want to go north to the University at Buffalo and south to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

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.