Elmwood development will help already promising area

Major hotel, multi-use development takes major step toward reality

Local pride and protectiveness rarely coalesce as they do around the Elmwood neighborhood downtown, as a recently decided court case revealed.

A legal judgment giving a significant boost to a proposed plan for a hotel and mixed-use development downtown on the corner of Elmwood and Forest Avenues came down Friday. The plan is for a mammoth new building, including hotel rooms, retail space, restaurants and an indoor parking garage. The planned development, however, has been met with controversy as those protective of the Elmwood neighborhood have blasted the proposal as a bane to the area's character.

But for anyone who frequents the area, it is clear there is a need for more accommodations, parking and commercial ventures to see Elmwood flourish.

The neighborhood is doubtlessly precious to the city - a gem for locals and visiting tourists with a slew of locally owned establishments that capture the rich history and diversity of this city.

That is exactly why such a development should be lauded.

The legal challenge came from owners of six properties in or adjacent to the area being slated for the development. The property owners in the case were fighting for the enforcement of restrictive deed covenants - legal land-use promises to how a property can and will be used - dating back to 1892. If they would have been upheld by the judge, the over 120-year-old restrictions would have prevented such intense commercial development.

State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled that the covenants in question were extinguished on the property of the development company, Chason Affinity Cos. Though the property owners' attorney has vowed appeal, the case pushes the planned development - originally proposed in 2009 - another step further.

Clearly those involved in the case were more interested in the nature of Elmwood development than in preserving severely dated legal promises. Legally, the ruling is reasonable, as the restrictions placed on those properties long ago clearly don't align with modern realities. More significantly, the case captured the debate on how local and traditional the development of this area should be.

What has been lost on some, though, are the benefits such a proposed building will have. Both reasonable and needed, the hotel and mixed-use space fills a void in an increasingly attractive neighborhood in a city trying to reestablish itself.

As Michalek stated during the case, the pride the property owners have in protecting and preserving their neighborhood deserves respect. People fighting for the best of their community are admirable and impressive. But romantic feelings for traditionalism and small, local business only go so far.

The Elmwood neighborhood where this hotel and associated establishments are proposed is often a lively, bustling part of downtown, attracting suburbanites, students and tourists. Tight parking and lack of nearby accommodations for those wishing to stay the night, however, are deficiencies that need addressing, particularly as the area expands in popularity.

Though we should remain protective of the general character of the neighborhood, this development does not kick the area down a slippery slope to corporate commercialization - it meets a need. The hotel, parking garage and other spaces will help the continued growth and expansion of an area Buffalonians are right to take pride in.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com