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Neighbors, businesses sue to halt apartment proposal in the Old First Ward

The lawsuit requests that all approvals and permits for the project be rescinded until further discussion can be had.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nineteen neighbors and businesses in the Old First Ward want the City of Buffalo and the developer behind a proposed 85-unit apartment complex to halt their project and they've filed a lawsuit to do it.

The project called "The Riv" is a collaboration between designer, ELEV8 Architecture and developer, JC Properties QOZB LLC. They are seeking to construct four buildings along Hamburg Street, South Street, and Vandalia Drive, split diagonally by a railroad line that runs through the area.

The plan was approved by the Buffalo Planning Board on January 10.

The lawsuit which was filed in Erie County Supreme on March 6 is not the first pushback the project has received. Neighbors started a petition called "Keep the Old First Ward Green" on Change.org soon after the plan was unveiled publically in October 2021.

Gene McCarthy's owner Bill Metzger was worried about the plan then and months later still is. Metzger is the lead litigant for the lawsuit.

"I told them I am not interested in selling," Metzger told 2 On Your Side.

Metzger owns two lots adjacent to the proposed apartment complex. His bar/brewery is also just up the street. Metzger said his goal in purchasing the land in 2020 was to keep the neighborhood green.

But that hasn't stopped JC Properties from buying up the other properties in the area in preparation for the project.

"None of us are really anti-development but we just feel development should be in keeping with the neighborhood," Metzger said.

"To be fair to the developer they have listened to a lot of concerns unfortunately there are just certain concessions that they are not willing to make," said Patrick Gormley, executive director for the Old First Ward Community Association.

"I think the bottom line comes to having a certain number of occupancy that they're going to be able to recoup the amount of money they're putting into the project."

The Old First Ward Community Association is another one of the neighbors and businesses that's part of the legal action.

The 19-page lawsuit claims the developer, JC Properties, submitted inaccurate information to the planning board and omitted an environmental document necessary for the project. In turn, the lawsuit argues that those "clear errors, omissions, and obvious inconsistencies" meant the city failed to scrutinize the project before granting its approval.

Metzger and the 18 other litigants have requested that all approvals and permits for the project be rescinded until further discussion can be had.

"Really what we'd like to see is a reduction in the housing. Profitability isn't the only reason that a building is built," said Metzger.

"I know it's a very important issue for those who want to invest in it but for the neighbors who are pretty much against this project at the size that it is we'd like to see something that is more in keeping with the region."

JC Properties has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying the property needed for the project. In 2019 for example, the developer spent over $400,000 to buy one property on South Street that according to the Erie County Department of Real Property Tax Services had an assessed value of $116,000. For now, it sits vacant with boarded-up windows. Another home on Vandalia sold for a similar price tag in 2020 and had an assessed value of $43,000.

Metzger and Gormley also expressed concerns about flooding, which is a regular occurrence during seiche events in the Old First Ward. The area is located in a FEMA-designated 100-year flood zone. Added car traffic from the proposed apartment complex was another concern among neighbors they said. 

"We are definitely not anti-development in the First Ward we just want to make sure the thoughts and concerns of the community are taken into account," said Gormley.

2 On Your Side reached out to ELEV8 Architecture for comment and in a statement, they said the firm does not comment on ongoing litigation.

They added, however, "...we continue to think that the 'RIV project' is a great fit for a section of the Old First Ward neighborhood that has become largely vacant and underutilized. The RIV is designed to help return the area to the nature and scale of past development. For these reasons, we believe the RIV enjoys broad support in the Old First Ward community."


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