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201 Ellicott development takes huge leap forward

Cannon Design
Braymiller Market anchors the project.

A massive affordable housing plan for 201 units in the middle of downtown Buffalo took a great leap forward Monday before the city Planning Board.

The board decided not to order a full environmental review of the brownfield site. Instead, it decided there had been sufficient environmental study to sign off on it, with a negative declaration.

This is not the final step, since the project at 201 Ellicott St. must come back to the Planning Board in two weeks for a site plan review, and nothing can get done until the city Zoning Board of Appeals rules on a slew of variance requests for the project.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Duff's new 471 Elmwood Ave. restaurant location was also approved at the meeting.

Originally, the Ciminelli Real Estate plan for the site was luxury housing with lots of parking. Now, it is affordable housing with a small fresh food market and almost no parking. Project Spokesman Matt Davison said not only is it housing, but it is that Braymiller market.

"We have a public market that everyone's really excited for. The season's changing now. It's spring. Everyone's out and coming to Braymiller Market and I think what's that's going to bring to downtown Buffalo is going to be amazing. Our product team is very excited for that," Davison said. "You have fresh food, you have affordable housing and you have this transit-oriented development that really is infill, taking away a public parking lot and making a really dynamic project for downtown Buffalo."

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Not everyone agrees. Lafayette Hotel owner Rocco Termini blasted the project for its location in a vast parking lot which has generally served the hotel and its customers.

"Do we really think that's what we need in the Central Business District? Do you think that's what we really need, across from one of the most historic buildings downtown?" Termini said. "Louise Bethune is crying in her grave right now, to think that this building is being built across from that historic district."

Louise Bethune was probably the first American woman architect. Ciminelli and the city say there is plenty of parking in a short walk.

The original luxury design included underground parking, later replaced by a surface-level ramp. There are only a few spaces connected with this project. Planning Board Member Cynthia Schwartz said the parking issue will come back, again and again.

"This frankly is the first-of-this-kind struggle conversation that we're going to have because all I've heard in all the years I've lived in Buffalo is: How do we get rid of the surface parking lots?" Schwartz said. "They are a drain on the life of the city. Every time we get rid of one, there's going to be some retail or commercial entity that's going to be impacted."

Credit Cannon Design

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.