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A Landmark Meeting: The Fairfield Library

By David Torke – fixBuffalo:
The Fairfield Library, already a landmark in the hearts and minds of thousands of Buffalonians, is poised to become an officially designated city landmark. Unless, of course, a developer has his way. The building has been vacant since 2005, when Erie County closed the branch. The building stands prominently on a sweep of green lawn at Amherst and Fairfield streets in Parkside, a familiar landmark for over 100 years, even for those who never walked in its doors. The building opened as a Unitarian Church in 1897. Designed by eminent architect, Parkside resident, and Unitarian Willam Sydney Wicks, the structure is a unique Classical Revival building with cedar shingle siding. 
While the closing of the library still stings, the original agreement between the City and the County is what has been holding the building back from appropriate maintenance.  Once the county closed the library, its obligation to maintain it shifted to the city. The City, already the landlord of over 7,000  vacant properties, has been negligent in its upkeep. Neighbors have been mowing the lawn, picking up trash and keeping watch. It was only this summer the Department of Real Estate had the money to put up a simple For Sale sign.
Fairfield-library-torke-Buffalo-NY-2.jpg
There has been consistent interest in the building; there have been many offers and the building has been highlighted by Preservation-Ready Sites, Buffalo Spree and Painting for Preservation all to promote a new and sympathetic owner. Unknown to the Buffalo Preservation Board at the time of nomination, developer David Pawlik of Creative Structure Solutions, had put together a plan for residential units in the building and parking on what is now the front lawn. He has announced that if the building is designated, he would not be interested in pursuing his proposal. but The Preservation Board tabled a previous iteration of the nomination three years ago when a potential developer inveighed against it in the community. Nothing came of that proposal, and the building continues to languish. Landmark status would give a resident owner several tax incentives not presently available to the un-designated building.
Fairfield-library-torke-Buffalo-NY-1.jpg
The building, at a little over 6,000 square feet, includes a full-basement and 1960’s addition. so more like 2,500 square feet, represents a realistic rehabilitation. 
Pawlik is not the only one with a proposal. An Allentown couple are looking to purchase the building as a single-family home. They actually advocated for both local and National Register designations, for the honor of living in such a building, and, secondarily, for the financial benefits that such designations would accrue. Both presented their ideas at a public meeting organized by Council Member Demone Smith held last night at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. Here are the two completely different proposals on the table right now:
Proposal #1
Creative Structure Solutions proposes converting the building into 5 to 6 residential units with permanent alterations to the interior of this past church and library. Pawlik also suggested removing all exterior fabric including replacement vinyl windows. Such a conversion would require at least 2,000 square feet of surface parking which was sited behind a retaining wall on the park-like lawn of its corner lot. CSS recently completed The Lofts at Warwick at 700 Parkside Avenue that has no historical designation.
Proposal #2
Two Allentown residents and professors, Tom Breen and Steve Fabian, proposed rehabilitating the building as a single-family residence completing necessary exterior repairs to the roof, existing wood, shingle and wood windows. The nave, alter and choir loft would remain as is with very few interventions to the interior historic features. The front lawn would be maintained as a private garden with no obtrusive parking. Breen is pending licensure as an architect and has managed the adaptive reuse of historic properties professionally. He can attest to the operation of the historic wood windows, too.
Support for Local Landmark designation was the overwhelming sentiment at the meeting. There is some misguided momentum to forgo Local Lankmark status of the building again in order to meet Pawlik’s requests but it appears to be based on the frustration of seeing the building deteriorate for seven years under City-ownership, not by confidence in the design.
As the Landmark nomination pends along with the interest and resources of Pawlik, and Breen and Fabian, consider a common adage amongst preservationists; do no harm. A loft conversion that permanently alters the interior of a well-designed and sacred place, gives up a corner park to corner parking all with vocal disregard to guidance by the Preservation Board or local residents, is what we nor the building have been waiting for.
The Local Landmark nomination will go before the Common Council’s Legislation Committee on Tuesday, March 13. Attend or contact Councilmember Demone Smith to record your thoughts on Fairfield Library.
Past stories:
Another Chapter for the Fairfield Library? [Painting for Preservation]
Lead photo: Photographer Joe Cascio 
Other photos: David Torke

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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  • grad94

    #2. absolutely. no brainer.

  • biniszkiewicz

    If the Allentown couple is for real, by all means let them develop it into a single family grand residence. Just be sure they have the where-with-all to save the structure and let them at it. Pawlik is a good developer, but he can and will find other fish to fry. There’s plenty in this pond.

  • hoss

    As a Parkside resident, I’d rather not see the front lawn turn into a parking lot for a vinyl cladded multi-unit. This building has a LOT of sentimental history for a LOT of folks. It was the childhood library of my 70 year old mother. She literally cries that it is no longer a library. I doubt my daughter will have the same attachment for the current strip mall abomination of a library that us North Buffalo residents have been dealt with.

  • Travelrrr

    #2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2#2

  • Platt4

    No 1; sorry No 2, this bldg can’t wait for ur dollar and a dream scheme to come together.

  • impressingagent

    Buffalo Rising.
    The Toy Fest Parade should be a city of buffalo thing.

  • jtrzewitcowski

    you know that when a business has the word creative in its name it most certainly is not.

  • timatbuffalo

    My partner and I approached the realistate department over 5 years ago about buying the old library and had to get approved as a preferred developer in the city, then they appraised the building at $75,000 dollars. We gave a full price offer for the building with a licensed inspectot to reveiw the building. It came back that the realistate department had not winterized the building like they said they had and the pipes were all busted and covered in asbestos and had to be remediated and the new roof was only a patch job witch leaked and the northwest corner of the building has so much water damage that it requires exstensive repair. The electrical service that the county put in is so far from code no one would ever let it fly. The basement floor is completely dry rotted and must be removed. This not withstanding we were still interested in the project and Brandon Mc Caffery wanted us to continue and asked the realistate department to reevaluate the property and it came back with a price of $55,000 and we asked how and were told that if we wanted to pay $3,500 for Commercial appraisal to be done we could. Our contractor gave us an estimate of $89,000 just to remove the asbestos, replace the windows in kind and just patch the roof. This did not include the replacement of the roof or a proper Electrical service or the removal of the dry rotten basement. We were also told that the building could never be more than a 2 family home due to an agreement with the neighborhood at it’s closing.
    I Love the building and spent 5 years trying to get it but when completed it would only be valued at most $250,000 due to the location. My partner and I spent almost $400,000 on restoring 255 Huntington Ave and only sold it for $350,000 and I would do it again on that house because it’s a beautiful home, but we can’t continue to donate to the cause when the city, before we were finished with the house asseded

  • timatbuffalo

    My partner and I approached the realistate department over 5 years ago about buying the old library and had to get approved as a preferred developer in the city, then they appraised the building at $75,000 dollars. We gave a full price offer for the building with a licensed inspector tto reveiw the building. It came back that the realistate department had not winterized the building like they said they had and the pipes were all busted and covered in asbestos and had to be remediated and the new roof was only a patch job witch leaked and the northwest corner of the building has so much water damage that it requires exstensive repair. The electrical service that the county put in is so far from code no one would ever let it fly. The basement floor is completely dry rotted and must be removed. This not withstanding we were still interested in the project and Brandon Mc Caffery wanted us to continue and asked the realistate department to reevaluate the property and it came back with a price of $55,000 and we asked how and were told that if we wanted to pay $3,500 for Commercial appraisal to be done we could. Our contractor gave us an estimate of $89,000 just to remove the asbestos, replace the windows in kind and just patch the roof. This did not include the replacement of the roof or a proper Electrical service or the removal of the dry rotten basement. We were also told that the building could never be more than a 2 family home due to an agreement with the neighborhood at it’s closing.
    I Love the building and spent 5 years trying to get it but when completed it would only be valued at most $250,000 due to the location. My partner and I spent almost $400,000 on restoring 255 Huntington Ave and only sold it for $350,000 and I would do it again on that house because it’s a beautiful home, but we can’t continue to donate to the cause when the city, before we were finished with the house asseded they came after us a assed us at $449,000 and fought it down to $350,000 before it closed, talk about a kick in the butt.
    I’m sorry, but you would have to give me that library for free and a gerranty that they would leave me alone on the taxes for a long while before I’d ever think of it again. Sorry for all the spelling mistakes but can’t figure how to correct them on an Ipad

  • Jesse

    “He can attest to the operation of the historic wood windows, too.”
    ROFL
    I do too: turn thingy to unlatch it, lift up on the sash. Feel the breeze. Push down on the sash to reverse the process.

  • Dagner

    Thanks for detailing the additional potential problems. I have forwarded them to the email address the Allentown couple gave at the meeting, just in case they don’t follow BR.
    And it looks like you did a great job on Huntington. Thank you.
    BTW As they described at the meeting, if the building were to receive local landmark status, it would receive ten years of property tax relief.
    I believe how it works is that the owner does not have to pay the property taxes on the increased value, just the original value, for the first 5 years. For the next 5 years, the value rises 20% closer to the true value. Thereafter the owner is responsible for taxes based on its assessed value. [BRO Readers: PLEASE correct this interpretation if you know of specific errors. You would be doing us a favor.]
    And there are potential state and federal income tax benefits. I think they are in the form of tax credits for 20% of the cost of the covered repairs. [Again, CORRECTIONS WELCOMED. It would be useful to have this clearly defined.]

  • B-lo Booster

    This is not a debate about sentimental history.
    This is not a debate about the attractiveness of the two proposals currently under review. This is about whether granting landmark status will “save” the building and stabilize and enhance the neighborhood. If/when historic status is granted, and either or both proposals are not actualized, then the city will again be the landlord. As a result, the property will continue to languish and deteriorate to the point of no return…demolition by neglect. Landmark status will not save this building. It may in fact be the final nail in its coffin.

  • manski

    Interesting development… the Parkside Community Association board of directors voted to oppose local landmark designation at this time.

  • grad94

    did you not see the part about how landmark designation & national register status will free up tax credits and other financial incentives towards the rehabilitation? under the circumstances, i’d argue that denying landmark status is what will doom this building.

  • B-lo Booster

    The option to pursue landmark designation and secure private investment has been on the table for 7 years.

  • RaChaCha

    The tax credits are a relatively recent development.

  • grad94

    here’s hoping that the preservation board votes to designate.

  • whatever

    Regarding the options, I agree #2 sounds better to have it be a single big residence if (as Bini asks, and platt4 assumes they aren’t) the Allenwtown guys are “for real” in terms of financial ability/willingness. How that’s verified has to be subjective, but some checks should be done. Unless anything about their finances causes huge doubts, I’d say sell it to them in preference over the apt developer.
    About landmarking, perhaps the council should hold off and let them officially take ownership and have some time to carefully consider all pros/cons of it. If after owning it and looking into rehab issues in more detail, if they really want their house to be a landmark, then sure. According to the BN article, they “would welcome the landmark designation status, but they said it was not vital to their plans.”

  • r-k-tekt

    The Preservation Board prepared the nomination 2 years ago and voted unanimously to nominate it. They withdrew the nomination at the requst of the Parkside Community Association due to to the fact that a prospective developer at the time would not proceed if it were landmarked. With the building still languishing, the Preservation Board resubmitted the nomination for Common Council approval.
    The current developer also refuses to proceed with a project if it is lanmarked due to the extra “red tape”. The Preservation Board has stated that they were willing to work with him, but it appears it is his way or the highway. That is what the neighborhood should be concerned with. Pretty pictures are one thing, but vinyl windows, parking on the front lawn are another. There will be no one tempering his actions.

  • MEG

    When windows are the first thing to go in historic building, even when a restorative approach is claimed, it’s important to note that the windows still function even 100-years later. Get that kind of mileage out of a plastic window!?

  • MEG

    It is clear that the PCA is desperate to rid themselves of the blemish of the deteriorating Fairfield Library on their otherwise non-controversial plate of neighborhood crimestopping. This desperation, and clear connection to the developer, is clouding their judgement for to make the best decision for their members and the building itself. Of note, the building is in Vernon Triangle, just out of the posh Parkside area, which may explain some of their attitude, too. While their denial of support is a set-back, it is not the end of the Landmark application. Please write or call Councilmember Smith to show your support before March 13’s meeting.

  • MEG

    The building has been around since the 19th century; it can wait another couple of years for a reuse plan that does not permanently destroy everything that makes it special.

  • MEG

    Good summary. The tax abatement schedule becomes available with Local Landmark status. The 20% tax credit for homeowners opens up for National Register listed properties.

  • MEG

    Pawlik’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude and strong opposition to Landmark status should make it clear to all those involved, especially the PCA, that he does not intend to do the right thing by way of the neighborhood or the building. His plan includes putting at least nine parking spaces on the lawn. Do you park on your lawn, David!? As someone at the meeting said, “It would be no better than a used car lot!”

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkMveJFml-UgF2hHHl8x35cCSb1E9x_dLU

    As far as the costs go, the people who supposedly winterized the place still have a fiscal interest in this property. Assuming they did not volunteer their services (i.e., they were paid to do a job), they flubbed a contractual agreement in a big way- THEY DID NOT WINTERIZE THE PROPERTY. Pipes do NOT burst in a winterized properly. Functional pipes wrapped in asbestos are easy to mitigate –you just have them wrapped and sealed. Burst pipes that are wrapped in asbestos are a very expensive problem. Not only does the plumbing have to be replaced but the asbestos has to be removed and disposed of –very expensive (not to mention dangerous to the workers). We had the exact same problem with the Aud –remember that place?– who ever winterized it also failed, thereby making it’s demolition seem like the most cost effective course of action. Why are these criminals getting city contracts, failing to meet the terms of their contracts (IN WAYS THAT LINE THEIR POCKETS WITH CASH), and getting off Scott free? Why aren’t they being held accountable for the consequences of their incompetence? Rehabbing this property would not be so expensive if we (taxpayers) weren’t paying incompetent or criminally negligent contractors to line their pockets.