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$7M Episcopal senior housing project gains Common Council approval

Church of the Ascension
A rendering of the senior housing project.

Conversion of a landmark church at North Street and Linwood Avenue in Buffalo to affordable housing for seniors moved closer Tuesday, as the Common Council approved the plan and sent it to Albany and Washington for final approvals.

The $7 million plan for conversion of Ascension Church has been tangled in the city's approval process for months. The project is being handled by the charitable arm of the Episcopal Diocese, which planned to use historic preservation tax credits for the project. That means Albany and Washington have to sign off on the design for the 28 units - and there were problems there.

Eventually the Preservation Board approved the final design, but without enough approval votes. On Tuesday, the Council overrode that decision. Council President Darius Pridgen blasted one Preservation Board member for his actions.

"The conditions are the conditions that the Preservation Board asked for," Pridgen said. "To come and speak on the city record and that we work hard for and then one person who says they're not going to get their way says, 'I'm going to file a suit,' well, that's everybody's option. You can sue Mickey Mouse nowadays, but at the end of the day, what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."

Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt also attacked the Preservation Board's decision.

"I just can't imagine someone on a city board threatening to sue the city that they're supposed to be supporting and representing," said Wyatt, "and we know that we don't want rubber stamps, but certainly we get privy to information during that discussion. It seems like it's unfair and may have been done with the intent in mind to do this, which I think is very disconcerting."

To get that final city approval, some changes were made in the design, especially some windows and the base of the new apartment building next to the church, which has few changes because of historic preservation rules.

The Preservation Board member being attacked was former mayoral candidate Terry Robinson, a longtime Preservation Buffalo Niagara nominee to the board. Robinson could not be reached for comment.

Episcopal Bishop William Franklin said his diocese worked hard on the plan to help older city residents.

"Citizens above 55 should have affordable housing in the city and be able to enjoy our great city as it moves forward," said Franklin. "So it's for us something we've been working on since 2015, believe it or not, and we're so happy and thankful for the work of Bishop Pridgen on this and the Common Council and our partners at the Episcopal Church Home."

Franklin said the building should open in about a year.  WBFO couldn't reach Robinson for comment.

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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