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Elmwood Village activists seek new preservation district to help control development

An activist points at photos on a screen labeled "What We Have Lost"
Mike Desmond
Elmwood Village activists want a new preservation district to help development in their neighborhood.

The development wars in Buffalo's Elmwood Village are continuing, with a new push for a local historic district overlaying the two current national historic districts.

Many of the people attending a public meeting Wednesday evening at the Soto Library were familiar with each other because they have been in the same rooms during a series of development fights in the Elmwood Village.

Placing the neighborhood in local and state overlays on a map would tighten controls over development. It also would mean all of the advantages of a federal district, like tax credits.

"There's a lot of advantages to a local historic district for homeowners," said activist Gretchen Cercone. "It does increase property values. It also gives more of a voice in what kind of development happens in the neighborhoods, both on the Elmwood Strip and we are seeing proposals on the residential side streets as well, which is concerning. So we want to make sure that neighbors have some leverage about what happens surrounding their properties."

Common Council Majority Leader David Rivera said the Council supports preservation.

"We've worked on preservation issues. We changed the rules for applying for a demolition permit where there's a request for landmark. So now we're slowing that down to make sure that we have time to vet it, to look it over," Rivera said. "We don't want buildings that should be maintained and kept demolished, like the one on West Utica."

That housing on West Utica was demolished to make way for part of Elmwood Crossing.

Elmwood Crossing is a five-story brown and white development on the site of the former Women & Children's Hospital
Ellicott Development
The enormous Elmwood Crossing development on Elmwood Avenue at Bryant Street has been the subject of many development fights.

Sinatra & Company is partnered with Ellicott Development on the Elmwood Crossing project, the continuing conversion of the former Women & Children's Hospital, located at Elmwood Avenue and Bryant Street, and has won many development fights. Also in the audience was Amy Nagy, Sinatra's managing director of development and an Elmwood Village resident.

"Sinatra & Company Real Estate has done great preservation projects. So we know that there can be certain benefits that we have relied on and will continue to do so, such as at Elmwood Crossing. But we also know some of the requirements to do historic preservation are extremely costly," Nagy said.

The meeting drew mayoral candidate India Walton. She said the lessons of preservation in the Hamlin Park community are that they apply in all city neighborhoods and can be good for those communities.

"I believe that preservation matters," Walton said. "When I look at aerial photos of Hamlin Park, that has been historically preserved, as opposed to other parts of the city where we've seen so many demolitions, there's a palpable difference. So I support the residents of Elmwood Village in their pursuit of historic landmark designation."

Neighborhood activists said the fabric of the Elmwood Village has been damaged by development and there is development pressure on side streets, not just along Elmwood Avenue.

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.