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Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You
by Buck Quigley
Frizlen plan meets resistance from community
Architect Karl Frizlen has gained a name for himself as a developer in Buffalo for various projects, including but not limited to the conversion of the Horsefeathers Market & Residences on Connecticut Street, and more recently an 18 apartment complex located steps away from Elmwood Avenue at 305 West Utica. The Frizlen Group Architects are also responsible for the three-story, mixed-use project at 766 Elmwood Avenue, featuring 24 single and two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors above the retail space on the lot between the Globe Market and the 7-11.
A new project planned for 794 Potomac, however, is meeting with stiff neighborhood opposition.
On December 9, about two-dozen residents of Inwood Place and Potomac Avenue gathered in an upstairs apartment on Inwood to hear, for the first time, about a proposed plan to build 26-condo units on .6 acres of land. Frizlen explained that the size of each one would range from 1,150 to 1,800 square feet, and the proposed cost of the two and three bedroom units would be between $350,000 and $500,000. The new structure would dwarf anything on either street, and stretch to a length of 220 feet, with entrances and exits for underground parking on both Inwood and Potomac. The lot for the project is one of the largest in north Buffalo, a massive 26,000 square foot parcel that sits like an island in the middle of the block bordered by Delaware Avenue on the east, Potomac Avenue on the south, Windsor Avenue on the west, and Inwood Place on the north. The lot currently consists of one single family home and a detached concrete masonry unit serving as an automotive workshop. Those would be demolished.
Aside from this automotive workshop, the neighborhood is entirely residential, consisting predominantly of upper/lower doubles—most of which are owner-occupied—some singles, and a few multi-unit apartments. The housing stock on both streets was built in the early 1900s, and driveways are in remarkably short supply. Many that do exist are shared between two neighbors. Thus, on-street parking is at a premium, with homeowners often left driving around the block in order to find a parking spot in the evenings. That challenge is compounded by snow in the winter.
Full disclosure: I found out about this development only by receiving an email update from the Inwood Place Block Club head Michael Tritto—because I’ve lived on the street for about twenty years. Councilman Joel P. Feroleto had alerted Tritto on November 30 that Frizlen had an appointment before the Zoning Board of Appeals to present his plans on December 16—just two weeks away. The project would require variances. The most glaring one would be to increase the allowable density on the property by 100 percent, from 13 units to 26 units.
At the hastily called December 9 meeting, Frizlen introduced himself, showed some architectural drawings and told residents about his overall plan. Concerns were voiced early on. There was a sense among neighbors that they were being blind-sided. Parking was an immediate concern, since the initial plan called for 40 parking spaces to be put underneath the structure—which didn’t seem like enough to accommodate 26 two and three bedroom residences. (Frizlen has since addressed this neighborhood concern by adding 17 more parking spaces, tightly stacked with two cars per unit—so residents in each residence could jockey two cars.) A description of the construction process was also unappealing, with five months of preparatory site work involving heavy equipment on the quiet, but dense, streets—some of it necessary to do possible environmental remediation on account of old buried fuel tanks from the heyday of the automotive garage. That step would possibly lead to Brownfield cleanup credits. When asked why his project had to be so large, he explained that it needed to be twice the size the current zoning law allows in order to “make his numbers work.”
He also added, somewhat ominously, that if the proposed Green Code passes, a developer would not even have to request the variances he was asking for in order to begin such a project.
After his presentation, the neighbors lingered to share their concerns with one another. They drafted a petition to give to Feroleto’s office, loaded with signatures. After Feroleto relayed the concerns to Frizlen, the developer agreed to table his proposal for the December 16 zoning board meeting.
In a December 15 letter from Frizlen to zoning board chair Rev. James Lewis, he listed the benefits of his project “to the neighborhood and the City in large.”
“Developers go where the market is,” he began, “After many years of job loss and steady decline in population, mostly the younger generation, we see now for the first time a rejuvenation of the region and the city in particular. Many people, whether young or old want to live in the City and existing housing stock is absorbed faster than the supply, evidenced by steadily increasing property values. There is a need for additional housing units, especially new housing to accommodate modern lifestyles and the special needs of aging residents. We are going through a typical stage of ’growing pains.’”
Among his other points in the letter, he claims that “Many years of industrial use of the property has polluted the ground and potentially the ground water.” Even though he conceded in a phone interview that there have been no tests to establish that such is the case. The only inspection record the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has on file for 794 Potomac is from 2007, and indicates no soil contamination.
Frizlen’s proposal was also put forth at a meeting of the Delaware Park South Neighborhood Association on January 6. Subsequent meetings of Inwood and Potomac residents have been reflecting a growing concern about the project in the month and a half since it was first made known to the neighborhood.
When reached by phone, Tom Chwalinski, the Zoning Board of Appeals contact for the City of Buffalo, said he is very aware of the proposed development because he’s been fielding an inordinate number of complaints from residents of both streets, who’ve been reaching out via email and phone. He will be delivering those sentiments to zoning board members when the issue comes before them on Wednesday, January 20. The members of the zoning board are all mayoral appointees, and he was not allowed to share their contact information with the press, in order to include them in this article. Along with Rev. Lewis, the zoning board is also made up of Antony Diina, Bill Grillo, Bernice Radle, and Tuona Batchelor.
Unlike the vastly dissimilar developments currently proposed at Gates Circle and in the Fruit Belt—where neighbors have been voicing their concerns and gaining attention in the press—the situation for residents and homeowners on Potomac and Inwood has been playing out in silence, aside from a brief post at BuffaloRising.com on December 11, which concluded “the immediate neighbors would most likely see this as a constructive development.”
Based on dozens of emails from homeowners and residents that I’ve received, such is not the case. Here are some excerpts from a few, with their names and addresses withheld for privacy:
■ When I moved back to Buffalo from Seattle 3 years ago, I was elated to buy a home in the desirable Elmwood Village. Potomac, between Delaware and Chapin, proved to be a perfect example of Buffalo’s famous architecture. This block is a mix of single and double historic Victorian homes and a side by side Antebellum designed apartment complex.
■ I am opposed to Mr. Frizlen’s proposed 26 unit apartment building at 794 Potomac which extends to Inwood Place for the following reasons:
1) This design is an affront to the architectural integrity of Potomac/Inwood block.
2) This high density project is appropriate for a commercial street.
3) Additional estimated 60-100 residents and visitors would place undue burden on street traffic and parking.
■ Buffalo has been very lucky to have Karl Frizlen as architect and urban developer.
However, his proposed development of 26 1- 2 bedroom condos at 794 Potomac Avenue, between Chapin Parkway and Delaware Avenue, for so many reasons, is a bad fit and breaks with the essential character of the neighborhood. As a result Frizlen is facing overwhelming opposition by residents and property owners on both blocks to his application for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, set to meet on January 20.
The available land is currently zoned for 13 units and Frizlen is seeking to double the density. The development would fill six lots that are now either vacant, house an automotive repair shop (and has for the past 80 years or so), and an old small farmhouse. The resulting piece of land (once cleaned up) would span the distance between Potomac Avenue and Inwood Street and it falls right in the middle of the two blocks. Although Frizlen says the facades facing both streets would be made to look like two or three buildings, it would actually be one large building.
Residents in the four adjacent houses would have the 2 1/2 floor structure with balconies overlooking their backyards. Both streets are just 30 feet wide, filled mostly with two + story double houses, with back yards and porches. It is a neighborhood where neighbors hang out on their porches and in their backyards to converse with each other over fences. While there is no doubt that it would be good to put the auto repair shop—and it’s likely soil contamination—behind us, let us not forget there was and is a reason for the existing zoning—and it certainly fits the surrounding neighborhood. For the record, to my knowledge residents on the two streets do not oppose development per se.
■ I live on Inwood with my husband and my one year old son. My main concern about the development plan for 794 Potomac is the safety of my son and the other children who live on the street. Our street does not have a lot of traffic right now and the children that live on Inwood can enjoy playing street hockey with their parents and games with other children without worrying too much about cars passing by. I’m worried about the amount of traffic that the development will bring. Our street is small enough that most people are aware to drive slow and watch for children and pets between parked cars that might run out into the road. I feel very strongly that developments this large don’t belong on small residential streets where children play.
■ My husband and I bought our house on Inwood Place a year and a half ago. We really wanted to stay in the city and fell in love with Inwood’s charm. We especially like the quietness of the block along with the canopy of trees that line the street.
Also, when purchasing on this street, we were thinking about future children. Inwood already has a significant number of children on this family-friendly street. We poured our savings into this house and now fear that this project will forever change the character of the neighborhood. While we are open to future developments, adding 26 units in the middle of two quiet streets is absurd. The density that this creates is unacceptable and unlike the rest of Inwood and Potomac. We are people who chose to live in this neighborhood and don’t want to be driven out of it.
■ I am a homeowner on Potomac Avenue. I also rent to two young professionals.
I am vehemently opposed to the Frizlen development proposed for Potomac and Inwood for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: significant increase in traffic on an already narrow residential street; lack of parking; lack of privacy for those homes adjacent and across from the building (which will contain balconies/porches for each of the 26 units); toll on our extremely old infrastructure which already results in sinkholes on a yearly basis; and diminishing the culture and fabric of our beautiful residential streets that consist of old Buffalo homes in a Olmsted neighborhood... While density is important for cities, there are appropriate places for this type of infill. The middle of a narrow residential street surrounded by singles and doubles in an Olmsted neighborhood is not one of those places. There is no benefit to this type of density (other than Frizlen’s pocketbook) and instead only detriment to the neighbors who have invested their money, time and personal history into this area.
Frizlen routinely cites to his large residential building on Utica near Elmwood and attempts to characterize it as similar to Potomac. This comparison is an insult to our intelligence; the Utica building is steps away from Elmwood, a commercial area that needs residential density to thrive. The same cannot be said about the middle of Potomac and Inwood which is many blocks away from the nearest commercial property (a liquor store). To date, I have heard nothing from Frizlen or anyone else to justify this significant density on these quiet residential streets.
■ We love being city dwellers in the Delaware District. We support and and welcome development for this extraordinary city. Seeing numerous cranes active here again fill us with pride. Reuse, recycle and restore! Preserving our old buildings and neighborhoods is the envy of newer cities across the nation.
Having owned an old Victorian on Potomac Ave. for nineteen years, we feel we must participate in the opposing of the proposed project from Frizlen on Potomac Avenue.
Many on our street have had sewage issues, with our antiquated sewage system. We have road sink holes every Winter. We have had parking issues, with alternate parking.
We have had traffic issues during races, parades and festivals.
Bottom line: We do not fight progress and development on Potomac Avenue. We vehemently oppose Frizlen’s proposal for 26 units on our street. It is not sustainable here.
■ I am not opposed to developing the 6 parcels or capitalizing on the growth and energy have returned to the City. What I am opposed to is development that destroys what has, in part, inspired this energy and interest: the sense of place, the history and the strong backbone of street-by-street communities that are distinctly Buffalo. A generic building 6 times the size of the typical building in the neighborhood would do just that. The proposed condo/rental building is completely antithetical to the largely owner occupied doubles with deep porches where neighbors meet, converse and create the kind of community that make this a community, not just a place to live.
Developers are in the best position to determine what makes economic sense for their business. They are not in the best position to determine what is best for a community. I invite the Zoning Board of Appeals to visit our neighborhood and see for themselves the clear and irreparable harm this kind of maximum profit, minimum effort development would have on a community so many have invested so much in for generations.
The Pending Decision
This is the type of feedback the zoning board will be hearing from residents and homeowners at the January 20 meeting. If the appointed board sides with the Frizlen plan it will be doing so against current zoning code as well as the wishes of the well-coordinated neighborhood. Residents are trying to plan their schedules that Wednesday in order to attend the 2pm meeting.
With development accelerating across Buffalo, the current situation at Inwood and Potomac is an example of how threats to quality of life can arrive unannounced to residents and homeowners, seemingly out of thin air. The proposed Buffalo Green Code could further speed the pace of development, so the time is now for city residents to learn about it and voice any concerns before it is officially adopted by the city.
A series of community meetings regarding the Green Code are currently being held around the city, with one taking place at noon on Saturday, January 16, at Buffalo Seminary for residents of the Delaware District. Councilman Feroleto will be there to listen to residents.
For a list of other upcoming Green Code meetings, visit: buffalogreencode.com/event/blog comments powered by Disqus
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