In depth: Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal controversy

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Recent Developments
Original Story

In February of 2006, the Savarino Services Construction Corp. proposed the construction of a seven million dollar hotel on Elmwood and Forest Avenues in Buffalo, New York. In order for the hotel to be built, at least five properties containing businesses and residents would have to be destroyed. It was not certain whether the properties were owned by Savarino or by the landlord Hans Mobius. The hotel was designed by Karl Frizlen of the Frizlen Group, and is planned to be a franchise of the Wyndham Hotels group.

Elmwood Avenue is known by the community as a popular shopping center, and Nancy Pollina of Don Apparel (who is "utterly against" the construction) claims it's the only reason why students from Buffalo State College leave campus. Additionally, Michael Faust of Mondo Video said he did not want to "get kicked out of here [his video store property]."

In 1995, a Walgreens was proposed to be built on the same land, but Walgreens later withdrew its request for a variance because of pressure from the community. More recently, Pano Georgiadis tried to get the rights to demolish the Atwater House next to his restaurant on Elmwood Avenue, but was denied a permit due to the property's historical value. He has since been an opponent to the hotel construction.

In the process of debating the hotel, it was thought that a hotel had previously existed on the proposed site, however; research done at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society had shown that no hotel had previously existed on the site.

In depth

The initial meeting

Artist's impression of the current proposal, the Elmwood Village Hotel

On February 21, 2006, 140 people attended a meeting that was held at the Buffalo State College to discuss the hotel proposal. Citizens were opposed to the hotel development, including Mark Freeland, who claimed that the hotel will effectively prevent nearby Granger Street from getting any sunlight, and would make the households on that street "on permanent reality TV." Nancy Pollina claimed that the proposal was being rushed. Alternatives were suggested, including a plan to commercially revitalize the street without the construction of a hotel. Rocco Termini, the developer who proposed the plan, claimed that small stores would "preserve the streetscape" of Elmwood Avenue.

Hotel redesign

One of the main objections at the meeting was the design of the building: a large box-shaped building that dwarfs the small shops on that street. In an interview with Eva Hassett of Savarino Construction Services Corp., she told Wikinews that the hotel would be a story shorter and have 10% less rooms. In addition, the aesthetics of the building were to be changed, different building materials were to be used, and the smaller building would allow for more parking. When asked if Savarino agreed to Termini's proposal, they asserted that the hotel would be a great asset for Buffalo. Hassett agreed to another large meeting that was held in late February.

The second meeting and the planning board's decision

Joseph Golombeck

A more low-profile meeting was held on February 27, 2006 to disucss the redesign. One of the attendees was Joseph Golombek, who had only heard of the hotel proposal a few days earlier. He claimed that he was asked to approve the hotel the next day, to which he had responded that he would not accept or reject until the community has had more time to look at it. In addition, Golombeck claimed that two of the properties, 605 Forest and 607 Forest, would need to be re-zoned in order for the hotel development to go through. At a meeting of the City Planning Board, they unanimously agreed to postpone voting on the hotel plans for thirty days due to a lack of meetings.

Termini, who appeared at the first meeting, still claimed that the hotel is bad. He proposed another idea, again without a hotel. Susan Curran Hoyt claimed the hotel is still too large, and asked if the hotel size could be further reduced. Evelyn Bencinich complained that her property value will be deprecated as a result of the hotel, and that the construction process of the hotel could result in serious consequences.

On March 10, 2006, it was reported that the planning board further delayed voting on the hotel.

Threats of lawsuit

These businesses will be afftected by the development, Don Apparel, H.O.D. Tattoo, Skunk Tail Glass, and Mondo Video.

At a meeting on March 13, 2006, Savarino confirmed that they are seeking a variance on 605 Forest in Buffalo. Originally, both 605 and 607 Forest were requested for a variance. 605 Forest is the property of Pano Georgiadis, a local restaurant owner, who has threatened to sue if they had requested the variance. A petition has been drawn to prevent the construction, which had been signed by Georgiadis. However, signs of support have been found, including a citizen claiming that the hotel will raise property values. The Buffalo News claimed that at least six of the Common Council members have approved the hotel construction.

On March 18, 2006, citizens protested on Elmwood and Forest Avenues in Buffalo against the construction of the hotel. At least forty people arrived to picket for two hours. One complaint within the crowd was that the hotel would destroy businesses that had been around for years.

Approval by the Common Council and Planning Board

On March 22, the Common Council unanimously approved the construction of the Elmwood Village Hotel in less than two minutes. The approval also allowed for the rezoning of all five properties to allow for hotel development. While 605 and 607 Forest Avenue are not needed for the hotel, Savarino still needs the rights to 605 Forest Avenue to fulfill certain requirements. Six days later, another protest occurred. Several individuals met with a lawyer to see if any legal action could be taken. While it has been claimed that there is a case, the legal fees would be too expensive. A legal fund has been looked into.

On March 28, the Planning Board, who has the final say, approved the hotel construction. This has aroused plenty of controversy for the plan, with one man saying, "Thanks for destroying Buffalo." Georgiadis, the owner of an affected property, has confirmed that he is "definitely suing."

Lawsuit filed

A cease and desist from a Buffalo citizen

Attorney Arthur J. Giacalone has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against Buffalo's Planning Board and Common Council on April 21. The lawsuit claims that the plans were approved without giving consideration to the effects on the community. Giacolone is representing several people, including Nancy Pollina, one of the business owners affected by the plans. The lawsuit, titled Pollina et al. v. Common Council of the City of Buffalo et al., has been assigned to Rose H. Sconiers.

On April 26, more people have been named in the lawsuit, including the Mayor of Buffalo, Byron W. Brown, Savarino Construction Services Corporation, Hans J. Mobius and his son Hans S. Mobius, who are owners of the properties at stake, Pano Georgiadis, owner of Pano's Restaurant on Elmwood, and Cendant Corporation, the parent company of Wyndham Hotels. In addition, Savarino is prohibited from doing any construction and Mobius is prohibited from preventing the lawsuit.

In an e-mail interview with Wikinews, councilmember Joseph Golombek stated that the city is fighting the lawsuit, claiming that they "believe that [they] did everything fairly and properly (as well as legally)."

As of June 2, 2006, the preliminary hearing for the lawsuit was postponed to June 22, and was subsequently postponed indefinitely.

Proposal withdrawn

As of July 13, 2006, according to Savarino Construction Services Corporation, the plans for the hotel will be withdrawn and will undergo a "do-over". By the end of next week, the new proposal will be submitted.

"We're lovers, not fighters. Our energies should be spent on developing a really wonderful project, not wasted in court. We'll start over with a clean slate and take as much time as necessary to hear people out and end up with a very positive project for the neighborhood," said President of Savarino Construction, Sam Savarino.

Savarino asserts that the problem was not with the design or the location, but with the rushed process involved with the proposal.

Since then, the preliminary hearing for the lawsuit has been rescheduled for August 10, 2006, and as of August 14, 2006, has been postponed indefinitely pending Savarino's next action.

Properties for sale

A for sale sign has gone up on site of the proposed Elmwood Village Hotel location.

Hans Mobius has decided to place a for sale sign in front of the properties at 1109-1121 Elmwood.

Savarino now states that "legal complexities now exist" as a result of the sign being put up.

Documents threaten hotel proposal, businesses on site

Documents that lead back to nearly 1815 have turned up. According to the documents, "no business of anykind whatsoever" can be placed on the site of the proposed hotel. This discovery may cause the closure of any and all businesses on the site and may even prevent a hotel from ever being built.

Savarino is claiming that a judge will look at the documents to determine if the rules, which are stated on the original deeds of the properties, if a hotel can be placed there.

The original owner, Erastus Granger sold the land, which was known as the Granger estates to different people to build upon, but had restrictions which include no businesses or bars/saloons. For the time they were written, the documents also state that no barn, farm or stable can be built on the properties.