[I wrote on June 19th about my disappointment in the City of Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals’ June 17, 2020 granting of 13 variances for “The Lawrence” apartment facility – straddling Michigan Ave. and the Fruit Belt’s Maple Street. This week I filed a lawsuit challenging the approvals by both the ZBA and City Planning Board of that project. What follows is my press release announcing the legal proceeding in Erie County Supreme Court. Here’s WBFO’s response to the lawsuit, here’s the BuffNews article , and here’s BusinessFirst Buffalo’s version. If you’re really curious (and, perhaps, a bit of a masochist), here’s the 72-page Verified Petition commencing the CPLR Article 78 proceeding: Verified Petition Gidney v. Buffalo ZBA et al.]
July 9, 2020
CITY’S APPROVAL OF “THE LAWRENCE” APARTMENT COMPLEX ON FRUIT BELT’S WESTERN BOUNDARY CHALLENGED IN STATE COURT
– The lawsuit claims that Buffalo’s Zoning Board and Planning Board disregarded the requirements and intent of City’s “Green Code”, and ignored the character of the adjoining residential neighborhood, to enable the developer to make a profit –
Michigan-Redev LLC spent around $2 million to buy 15 parcels of land across Michigan Avenue from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in 2016 and 2017. At the time, most of the parcels were assessed in the $4,000 range. Six of the lots face Michigan Avenue and the medical campus, and 9 front on Maple Street, a traditional neighborhood of small homes, peaked roofs, and side yards. Under zoning laws in existence when the developer began assembling the one-acre site, a maximum of 27 apartments could be built. When the City enacted its new zoning ordinance early in 2017 (the Unified Development Ordinance or “Green Code”), the allowable number of residential units that could be constructed “by right” rose to around 57.
In August 2019, Michigan-Redev’s agent, Symphony Property Management LLC, went to the City with plans for an apartment complex they called “The Lawrence.” Little effort was made to comply with the Green Code’s limitations. Instead, the developer told city officials that they were unable to make a reasonable return on their $2 million investment unless they were allowed to construct a 129-unit building. On June 17th, following two revisions and multiple public hearings, Buffalo’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted Michigan-Redev thirteen (13) variances from the existing Green Code requirements – many substantial in size – approving a 133-unit structure, over 250’ long and 4 stories high on Maple St., and nearly 180’ long and 5 stories high on Michigan. On June 29th, the City Planning Board gave the project its approval.
On July 8, 2020, petitioners Elverna D. Gidney, whose family has owned a home about a block from The Lawrence site for nearly 60 years, and Lorna Peterson, a retired university professor who has worked tirelessly since 2014 to preserve and enhance the historic Fruit Belt community, filed a lawsuit in Erie County Supreme Court seeking to annul the ZBA and Planning Board approvals. The case, Elverna D. Gidney v. Zoning Board of Appeals of City of Buffalo, Index No. 806735/2020, is assigned to the Hon. Frank A. Sedita, and is scheduled to be heard 08/26/20.
Petitioners’ counsel, Arthur J. Giacalone, explains the reasons for his clients’ lawsuit:
The ZBA and Planning Board have the duty to protect the integrity of our zoning laws, and the character of our neighborhoods. They chose, instead, to protect the pocketbook of a developer who cavalierly ignored zoning requirements when purchasing the land. By decimating the Green Code, these boards disregarded the standards set by Buffalo’s Common Council, and exceeded their lawful authority. If their approvals are not reversed, the Fruit Belt will suffer further speculative buying and unjust gentrification.
Inquiries or requests for copies of the court papers should be addressed to Arthur J. Giacalone, at (716) 436-2646 or AJGiacalone@twc.com. Thank you.
With All Due Respect,