By Arthur J. Giacalone
Buffalo News columnist Denise Jewell Gee hopes that developer Mark Chason lives up to his promise. The principal of the Chason Affinity Companies says that the proposed hotel/retail/condominium project slated for the southeast corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues will take into account “the neighborhood fabric where the building will reside.”
The likelihood that a six-story, 200,000-square-foot mixed-use building can be designed to fit comfortably into the historic Elmwood/Forest neighborhood is remote, at best. As Chason said in a February 2009 Buffalo News article, “There would be nothing else like this in Buffalo. It’s more like something you’d see in Toronto.”
The contrast between the facility Chason envisions and the existing structures at the 11-parcel site is startling. The 10 primary buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1920 for residential use, are two stories in height, and have a combined area of less than 28,000 square feet, one-seventh the size of the proposed Chason Affinity project.
The nearby residences on Granger Place and Forest Avenue are similar in size, age and architectural styling. In fact, the overall cohesiveness in architecture, density, setbacks from the street and landscape features throughout the Elmwood Village area led to the creation in 2012 of the Elmwood West Historic District and the placement of 1,300 properties on the state and National Register of Historic Places. A similar process has begun for the Elmwood East Historic District, which, if successful, could place the existing structures owned by Chason Affinity on the national registry.
Chason’s plan to develop the one-acre site at Elmwood and Forest with one massive structure would also sharply contrast with the five commercial properties directly across the street on the west side of Elmwood Avenue. They are only two stories in height and, combined, have a gross floor area of approximately 32,000 square feet, one-sixth the size of the Chason Affinity proposal.
The Chason plan also conflicts with zoning laws. Buffalo’s code does not allow construction of a hotel on the Chason Affinity site. The maximum permissible floor area for a business is 2,500 square feet on any single floor or 5,000 square feet in any single building.
Additionally, the much touted Elmwood Village Design Standards mandate that “new buildings shall maintain the predominant scale of other buildings nearby … and respect the predominant height of buildings in the area.” The tallest building on the block stands only three stories tall.
Unless Chason Affinity drastically changes its plans, Chason will have a difficult time keeping his promise. His building belongs in Toronto, not at the gateway to the Elmwood Village.
Arthur J. Giacalone is a semi-retired lawyer who represents six families opposed to Chason Affinity’s plans.