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Green Code variances approved for controversial North Buffalo projects

The Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals began its day Wednesday in a meeting room high up in City Hall and finished late in the evening in a sweltering Common Council Chamber, dark from some light bulbs that were not working. In the end, the board approved a controversial grocery store on Hertel Avenue and a major residential development at Elmwood and Forest.

Nearly three hours after the meeting started, the board sensed there would be a big crowd for the section of the meeting dealing with the two projects, so it moved upstairs to Council Chamber for that part of the meeting.

Opponents and supporters of both the proposed Dash's grocery store on Hertel and the Chason-Affinity project on Elmwood Avenue detailed their cases. Developer Mark Chason said Wednesday was a big step.

"Getting to the end and hopefully pretty soon we will be able to start the project," Chason said. "That's our hope and this is a big step towards that goal."

A string of developers have tried to put something at the Elmwood and Forest corner, replacing the aging and decrepit mix of homes and businesses.

The Dash's project replaces a group of buildings on Hertel and the current Dash's with a new market and larger parking lot. Joe Dash was excited about getting ready for his construction groundbreaking.

"Sometime late this summer or early spring. We're looking about 10-11 months to build the new store. We should be open some time late summer next year, I would think," said Dash. "Once the store is built, we will close the existing store, will be closed down for six to eight weeks. Knock the old store down, remediate the parking lot and get the new store open."

Opponents of the project have been fighting development at the corner for three decades. They have one more opportunity to make their case, as it goes back to the city Planning Board on July 31.

Elmwood Village resident and lawyer Bill Altreuter said there might be lawsuits from opponents.

"I have questions about the way that it works," he said. "It seems to me that a lawsuit will follow as day follows night and then we'll get it straightened out. The Green Code is new and I don't really think the board thoroughly understands it. Perhaps a judge will."

Board members spent nearly an hour working their way through the requested variances and ultimately approved all of them.

Opponents argued some variances had gutted sections of the Green Code by allowing buildings to be built differently from the way the code allows. They also noted that both projects required variances because they are much wider than the code allows. At least one speaker told the meeting these projects cleared the way for other "mega-projects" on Elmwood.

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.
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