The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is filing suit against the Public Bridge Authority (PBA) in New York State Supreme Court to prevent demolition of a row of historic houses on Busti Avenue. The PBA wants to demolish the row for an access road to a new Duty Free store it wants to build on the present site of the Episcopal Church Home, itself a designated City of Buffalo Landmark. A hearing on a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) will be heard Tuesday, June 19, 2012 before Justice Joseph Glownia (Part 6, 3rd floor, 92 Franklin St.). (Restraining order approved- see below)
Byron Brown made a public announcement about the situation stating that he wants a halt on the demolition until the PBA shows concrete plans for the site before they can proceed, but Congressman Brian Higgins believes that halting the demolition is standing in the way of progress. Yesterday Higgins called on WNY leaders, residents, and businesses to join him in the "fight against the inertia." He cited how a new deal in Detroit, announced last week, to build an international bridge should serve as an example for Buffalo to follow suit and additional delays should not be tolerated.
"While Western New York is finding ways to block, other communities are finding ways to build," said Congressman Higgins. "The complacency and resistance to change that has been pervasive in Buffalo for fifty years will continue to cost us if we don't act now." The project in Detroit will create about 12,000 jobs per year during the four year construction period and would generate 8000 permanent jobs upon completion. "Incessant squabbling only leads to inertia," said Higgins, "Be it the waterfront, the Peace Bridge or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is time to fight against the fight and together fight for progress and all the good that comes with it."
Higgins' recent infrastructure bill has been projected to create 27 million jobs over the next 5 years and $400 billion in economic activity the first year alone. He asserted, "Public infrastructure is a public responsibility. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the "cost acceleration" of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014. The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now."
The Campaign and many others feel differently about the impact of the demolitions and the potential for harmful pollution to increase in the adjacent neighborhood with an expansion. The Campaign contends that the Public Bridge Authority has failed to file undertake the proper environmental review as required by the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). "The PBA claims it can demolish our historic landmarks and neighborhoods as it pleases, without regard to proper review and consent at the state and federal levels. They are wrong, said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman, "and their actions are wrong."
Three of the houses being targeted are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, including the locally landmarked Samuel Wilkeson House. It is an excellent example of the Tuscan Villa style and was home to Colonel Samuel Henry Wilkeson (grandson of Judge Samuel Wilkeson, the most significant of Buffalo's founding fathers). The house at 771 Busti is the last physical link to the Wilkesons in Buffalo.
Campaign Assistant for Special Projects Dana Saylor says, "To lose this house, as well as the other significant structures in the Prospect Hill Historic District, would be a travesty. The Public Bridge Authority Directors fail to understand the importance of this district, and their actions show only a concern with perpetuating the PBA, rather than serving bridge users and the citizens of Buffalo and New York State."
UPDATE: State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Glownia today issued a temporary restraining order halting the demolition of seven houses owned by the PBA along Busti Avenue. More on wgrz.com