Plan to turn Delaware Avenue mansion into apartments approved by city planners

Plan to turn Delaware Avenue mansion into apartments approved by city planners


The Battle of the Mansions is over, at least for now.

Critics of a $6 million plan to convert a languishing Delaware Avenue mansion property into nine townhouses, condos and apartments failed to sway the Buffalo Planning Board to their view.

City planners voted Tuesday to approve the proposed project by architect Karl Frizlen over the opposition of his neighbors, who again voiced their objections.

The decision means Frizlen now can proceed with his plans to convert the DeRose Mansion and carriage house at 891 Delaware Ave. into five apartments, while constructing two new three-story townhouse buildings of two units each near the front of the property.

Three of the mansion apartments would be rentals, while the fourth and the carriage house would be owned by Frizlen and his business partner, Ron Schreiber. The four townhouses – which would feature a two-car garage on the first floor, living space on the second floor and bedrooms on the third floor – would be for sale.

The approval came after Frizlen made changes to try to address the concerns of Rock Doyle and Dr. Andrew Covey, his neighbors in the Asa Silverthorne House at 877 Delaware Ave.

Doyle and Covey, who purchased their mansion property in 2006 for $520,000 and spent several hundred thousand dollars more to restore it and convert it back to a residence, are upset that Frizlen’s project would obstruct their view of Delaware Avenue and detract from the green space and beauty for which that part of the street is known.

So Frizlen, after meeting with neighbors and block club leaders, moved the curb cut 20 feet to the north to relocate the entrance to the property, and then shifted the front of the two townhouse buildings 35 feet further away from the Silverthorne home. He also added more landscaping.

But that wasn’t enough for Covey and Doyle. “It doesn’t do what we need it to do and doesn’t do justice to Delaware Avenue,” said their attorney, Guy J. Agostinelli. “We think this is not the right project. There are alternatives open to the developer for this site ... Find a way to take care of the mansion without violating the rights of others.”

Frizlen noted that the Historic Preservation Board unanimously approved the project after three meetings of its own, but Agostinelli argued that Covey and Doyle weren’t notified of that meeting and weren’t present to object.

But the board, after hearing testimony from attorneys for both sides, as well as from a neighborhood group, ultimately took Frizlen’s side, concluding that the developer had made efforts to meet with his detractors and to appease them.

“I think the applicant has gone the extra mile,” said board member Cynthia Schwartz, shortly before the vote.

In additional matters during its two-hour meeting, the board:

• Voted to approve the $37 million historic renovation conversion of the central Richardson-Olmsted Complex buildings at 400 Forest Ave. into the 88-room boutique Hotel Henry restaurant, urban conference and event center, as well as the Buffalo Architecture Center.

The proposal calls for a newly redesigned and glazed main entrance and parking on the north side of the three-building core, with most car and truck traffic coming in from Rockwell Road or Rees Street, not Forest Avenue, and new signage to be installed.

Stonework and windows would be restored. The Great Lawn on the south side, including the existing entry there, would be preserved.

“This quite possibly is one of the most thoroughly reviewed projects I’ve ever worked on,” said attorney Corey A. Auerbach of Damon Morey LLP, who represented Richardson-Olmsted.

• Backed Evergreen Association’s request to build a five-story addition at 166 W. Chippewa St. for offices, a medical clinic and a wellness center, to accommodate the organization’s rapid growth in recent years, from serving 500 patients to 2,000.

The largely glass-facade building, which would front on South Elmwood Avenue, would be directly linked to the existing historic former Roanoke Arms Hotel building that is now Evergreen’s headquarters at 206 S. Elmwood. The facade on the other side of the building would feature “diapered” architectural detail, similar to what exists on the current building, and would be illuminated at night to appeal to Cary Street residents behind it. The top floor would be set back.

• Approved some tweaks to Savarino Companies’ proposed conversion of 500 Seneca St., which now includes 130 apartments as well as commercial space. The building’s exterior has not changed significantly, aside from more than doubling the amount of greenspace and the addition of three more parcels now under contract to modify the lot.

“The changes sound like a lot, but they actually make the project a lot better,” said Planning Board Chairman James Morrell.

• Gave the go-ahead to Ellicott Development Co.’s planned new Tim Hortons restaurant at 1088 Niagara St., at the corner of Albany Street. The project, which had been tabled at a prior meeting because of neighborhood criticism about its appearance and traffic, would now include up to two additional glass storefronts in the building, plus three apartments on the second floor.

Ellicott also added a brick facade to the building and will “heavily landscape” a corner patio at Niagara and Albany streets, said Chief Executive Officer William Paladino. And it will have two entrances, to avoid what city Director of Planning Nadine Marrero termed a “traffic nightmare waiting to happen.”

Ellicott also may consider residential space in two other buildings on the larger property, Paladino said.

• Tabled a second proposal by Frizlen, to convert the former St. Thomas Aquinas school and gym at 432 Abbott St. into 32 one- and two-bedroom loft apartments, with 40 parking spaces.

Frizlen plans to replace some exterior windows and landscape part of the property but would otherwise leave the exterior as is.

The project, which would entail historic tax credits, is still being vetted by the State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service, and Frizlen has scheduled meetings with neighbors and the Zoning Board of Appeals, so city planners decided to delay action.

The church itself remains active, with the priest still living at the rectory, but the school has been empty.

“It’s a great reuse for something that’s been vacant,” Schwartz said, citing the recent surge in church redevelopments.

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