BUFFALO, N.Y. - In an unusual move, Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) spent roughly $2,000 to commission his own renderings for a proposed development at the northern end of the Elmwood Village, pitched as an alternative to a demolition plan currently under environmental review by the Buffalo Planning Board.
Ryan's office, with the help of a consulting firm named Realtus Creative, unveiled the joint plan on Wednesday afternoon. Their proposal avoids demolitions at the intersection of Elmwood and Forest avenues by preserving and reusing the existing buildings, with the goal of ultimately transforming the old housing stock into apartments, storefronts and even a bed and breakfast.
Ryan presented the plan to the public in front of a group of neighbors, who've lobbied for years to stop Chason Affinity Companies from demolishing 14 structures in favor of a new five-story multi-use complex.
Chason Affinity Companies, which owns and controls a 1.1-acre parcel on this strip of the Elmwood Village, intends to include 44 condominium units, three retail spaces and 140 parking spots in that five-story structure.
"The current Chason plan, and other recent proposals, have no place in the Elmwood Village," Ryan said, grouping the Chason project with a separate development proposal by Ciminelli Real Estate Corporation at the corner of Elmwood and Bidwell.
Ryan did not use taxpayer money to fund his renderings for the Elmwood and Forest project, but he did use campaign contributions and donations from the community. He announced his plan at his office at Delaware Avenue, joined by about a dozen people from the neighborhood, as well as the executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
Chason's plan, as proposed, would violate the city's new Green Code, which restricts buildings to only three stories. However, Chason Affinity Companies has indicated it will apply for special variances.
Ryan framed the Chason proposal as out-of-touch with the views of the neighborhood.
In early December, several neighbors voiced strong opposition to the plan in a public hearing in front of the Planning Board. Sandra Girage, who owns a building next door to the proposed development, even referred to the project as the "Nightmare on Elmwood."
"We're confident in what the community wants," Ryan said. "Now, we just have to make sure we keep working with the development community to get what we want."
Ryan said he sent his renderings to Mark Chason, the president of Chason Affinity Companies.
In a joint statement, Chason and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Birtch blasted Ryan's assertions.
"Sean Ryan said today that he is offering alternative development plans for the corner of Forest and Elmwood because of strong opposition to our project. This is simply not true," Chason and Birtch said. "We have worked with the neighborhood for several years, listening to their concerns and making numerous changes to the proposal. We believe that the immediate neighborhood overwhelmingly supports our proposed project."
Following the Planning Board meeting in December, Chason told 2 On Your Side that his team has held at least 20 public meetings in an effort to listen to the community. Originally, Chason had proposed an eight-story hotel at that intersection, but he said he scaled the project back to five stories because of complaints from neighbors. Chason also pointed out that his fourth and fifth stories would be scaled back from the street, in order for it to better fit into the Elmwood Village.
Chason enjoys strong support from Kilby Bronstein, who owns a small boutique named Half + Half on Elmwood Avenue, just down the street from the proposed development. She's hopeful the five-story complex could inject new life into her business.
"Sean Ryan, I'm not a huge fan of what he's proposing, only because I think what Mark is proposing is absolutely beautiful," Bronstein said. "I don't think he's going to change try and change the character. If anything, I think he just wants to build it a little bit more. And grow it."
Bronstein noted that a full renovation of those old buildings near Elmwood and Forest could cost millions of dollars.
"Certainly, Mark Chason's not going to want to redo his whole project just for that. And why should he? He's put a ton of work into it, he has a vision, he has a vision for this area, which is really important," Bronstein said. "He has green space. He has brown stones. He wants it to be a part of the community."