Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal threatened by possible lawsuit

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Pano Georgiadis speaks at Monday night's public community meeting.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Buffalo, New York — The property at 605 Forest in Buffalo was the center of attention at last night's public meeting held at the offices of Forever Elmwood on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Eva Hassett, Vice President of Savarino Construction Services Corporation, confirmed last night that the company will be seeking a variance for the 605 Forest property. Originally, both the 605 and 607 Forest Avenue properties were going to have variances placed on them. As it stands, 607 Forest will not be directly affected by the proposal, should it go forward. Both 605 and 607 are currently occupied by residents.

During Monday night's meeting, Pano Georgiadis, owner of 605 Forest and owner of Pano's Resuraunt at 1081 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, threatened to "sue" Savarino Construction if they tried to obtain a variance on his property to build the Elmwood Village Hotel.

The Elmwood Village Hotel is a proposal by Savarino Construction that would be placed on the corner of Forest and Elmwood in Buffalo. In order for the project to move forward, at least five buildings (1119-1121 Elmwood) which include both residences and businesses will have to be demolished. The hotel was designed by architect Karl Frizlen of the Frizlen Group. Although the properties are "under contract," according to Hassett, it is unclear whether Savarino Construction owns the properties. Hans Mobius, a resident of Clarence, New York and former Buffalo Mayoral candidate, is still believed to own them.

Currently, none of the properties is zoned for a hotel.

A freelance journalist writing for Wikinews asked Hassett what kind of zoning permit they [Savarino] would be applying for and, if 605 Forest is included, what zone that would be.

Buffalo, N.Y. Hotel Proposal Controversy
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"There is a 'special development plan' in front of the council, which changes only one thing about the zoning. It allows one permitted use for just a hotel. The rest of the zoning remains as it is under the current Elmwood Business District zoning. 605 and 607 Forest are not required for the project. They are not part of the footprint for the project. Let me answer this question again. This is on the record, in council: 605 needs to be rezoned in order to facilitate the project because of the sideyard requirement. Anything in C-2 is excluded besides the hotel. So we've taken the C-2 and included the hotel as a permitted use, and excluded everything else and everything else remains the same."

However, during the February 28 Common Council meeting, Hassett was quoted as saying that the two properties were "off the agenda."

Photo of Pano Georgiadis's signature, shown at the bottom of the petition, to stop the hotel development.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

"Now Karl said, at the last meeting, that they will build this hotel right on the borderline [property line]. If a wall forty-five to fifty feet high goes next to this house, of course it's not right. You really have to go with whatever the city code says, so you have to get back as many feet as the city code says," said Georgiadis.

"If you try to get a variance to change the code, I will sue you. This is my home, number one," added Georgiadis. "First of all I think we are all wasting our time here, you [Savarino], have already made up your mind, but if you go against city code, and you try to do the most rooms with a minimal amount of parking, again, I will sue you. If you build a hotel, in my idea its going to fail. It's doomed, ok. [If] it's going to be a home for the disabled, for the homeless, for recovery people, but that's another story. Then how is it going to be when we say, well I told you so? You will be over and done with. Its very hard to take a four story building [hotel] down."

Georgiadis stated last night that he was against the proposal and signed a petition to stop it, jokingly saying, "this isn't a paper to sign to build the hotel, is it? Don't make me sign the wrong thing."

Joseph Golombeck, district councilman, was at Monday's public meeting and said, "we also did request this and the reason we are doing this as a special business district is so that it has to be this specific plan. They [Savarino] can't go halfway through it and in six months decide that [the hotel] it's going to be three floors. They can't decide it's going to be five floors. It has to be, per law, exactly what it is that they brought to us [the public] so far, and then ultimately to the City of Buffalo Common Council when it's approved. So if it gets approved, it has to be this specific, exact project. They couldn't make it fifty parking spots, they couldn't make it thirty. It has to be specifically what they have right here."

Joseph Golombeck, district councilman in Buffalo, New York, speaking at the meeting.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

A man who lives on Granger Street in Buffalo attended the meeting, speaking in favor of the hotel development. He claimed, "There are a lot of low property values. Hopefully if we embrace development, our property values, for those of us who have property, will go up. There are a lot of people unfortunately, who are working hard, that do not get a chance to come to these meetings. I myself was at work and wasn't able to go to the last two meetings. I express that we appreciate that you [Savarino] invest in the City of Buffalo and for what you hope, because I do not think Savarino is into losing money. These people are not in business to be losing money here. They are hoping for the success of this [the hotel] more than any one of us. They are hoping that the property values in this area will go up more than any one of us, because it will benefit them [the residents and business owners], more than any one of us. I want this city to develop. I don't think anybody else is here understanding that we're looking for development in this city, we are looking for the city to get better. The councilman here is not interested in Buffalo failing."

Area residents and business owners concerned about property damage

Evelyn Bencinich, resident of Granger Street, would have the hotel directly behind her home, if it were to be built.

"What about construction [time]? Is that just for the exterior, the nine months? Or does that include the interior? Is there going to be blasting through bedrock? Is there property protection for damage? Are you [Savarino and the Frizlen Group] responsible?", asked Bencinich.

According to Frizlen, there is a layer of solid bedrock at least 30 feet from the surface of the land saying, "we anticipate that the bedrock is at least thirty feet down." He also admitted that "we haven't done any soil sporrings," but did say "the bedrock is somewhere in between twenty-five and thirty feet [down], we don't need to go that deep. So blasting is most likely out of it [the question]."

"Personally, I can only speak from the city side, but a few years ago we rebuilt Vulcan Street, in the northwest corner of Buffalo, and there were a couple of properties that were damaged and they [the owners] were able to file a claim against the company that did the work and they won in each case. It was the same thing with a school that was built on Military Road. There were a couple of problems with foundations on a couple of properties, and they weren't sure if caused by the school or not, but the insurance company ended up paying them," answered Golombeck.

"I would assume that Savarino is insured with someone. So if there is a problem with anything that happens to your properties, what I would recommend is that anybody that lives on Granger Place, if this does go through, that you get pictures taken of your basement and of your foundations, because God forbid if there is a problem, you want to have an[sic] before and after [picture]. You don't want to come afterwards and there's a crack in there [foundation] and you have no way of proving that it happened," added Golombeck.

Mobius in housing court

According to Golombeck, the properties that Mobius owns have been "in housing court on several occasions, but has a date of April 11, 2006 that he is going back [to court] for these properties. So it is in housing court and I wouldn't know Mr. Mobius if he walked in this room right now," stated Golombeck.

"I've gone after him on numerous occasions and everytime he gets out of housing court with a slap on the wrist. If I am a conspiracy theorist and say that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. I can only get him into housing court. Once he's in housing court, the judge rules on it. Now I don't mean to take any shots at previous administrations, but I am hoping with the new administration, being in here, that the inspections department is going to be a much better department than it has been for the previous several years."

City Planning Board sends proposal back to Common Council

The city's Planning Board on March 14, 2006, agreed to send the Elmwood Village Hotel proposal back to the Common Council so that it may "be opened back up to discussion from the public."

Office of Forever Elmwood Corp.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

On March 2, 2006 the Common Council sent the proposal "to committee" for further discussion and also requesting that the public be "engaged further."

During that meeting, Justin Azzeralla, Executive Director for Forwever Elmwood, said that the organization "supports the hotel project."

Also on March 2, the planning board agreed to table, or postpone, any decision on the hotel proposal for at least thirty days, also citing the need for the public to be "more engaged."

The Common Council is expected to meet on March 21, 2006 at 2:00pm local time where they may approve or deny the proposal.

Majority of Common Council allegedly supports hotel proposal

According to The Buffalo News, at least six Common Council members support the hotel project and are pledging to vote to approve it at the meeting on Tuesday, March 21.

However, the city's Planning Board will get the final say on the project.


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