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Block Clubs and Change Makers

“I
love my house, I love my neighborhood, I love my community,” he says.  As a result Scott Dunkle has tirelessly
worked to maintain and improve his little piece of the Elmwood Village he calls
home.  Scott will sing the praises
of the great restaurants that are literally outside his front door–Aroma, The
Wine Thief, Toro and Mode, to name a few. 
He loves the wings at Casa di Pizza and the Pizza at Avenue Pizza.  He tells me there is nothing better
than a hotdog and milkshake at Louie’s, and all of this is literally on his one
block of Elmwood Avenue in the Village between Bryant and Utica. 

What
Scott doesn’t like are the empty storefronts and the illegal behavior of some
residents.  So what does he
do?  He revitalizes a neighborhood
block club and reaches out to residents and business owners in his immediate
community to address these quality-of-life issues. 

I
first met Scott a year ago when he was planting the planters he secured for the
Bryant Street area through a community grant.  As I complimented his Rose of Sharon bushes, he introduced
himself to me and invited me to join his group.  He explained that he was President of the Bryant Street
Block Club that technically runs between Elmwood and Richmond.  He had no idea where I lived or that I
was a member of another Block Club; he just wanted everybody to get
involved.    We struck up
a friendship, and I got on his mailing list.  He welcomes everybody to better the community and join in,
whether they live on North, West Ferry, or in another part of the city–at one
meeting we had residents from West Seneca and South Buffalo!

Throughout
the year we have been communicating, and 2 primary issues keep
resurfacing.  The first issue is
the incredible number of vacant storefronts.  Some of those spaces have been empty since the day I moved
to town 3 years ago.  Scott, like
many others, doesn’t understand why this prime retail space isn’t being snapped
up.  He also understands that
although the Elmwood Village is a vibrant city neighborhood, it is fragile and
needs every block to be continuously nurtured and developed to strengthen the
neighborhood.  Strong neighborhoods
lead to strong communities, which lead to strong cities. Why is this part of
Elmwood suffering when other parts continue to thrive? 

The
second issue is illegal behavior like public urination, aggressive pan-handling
and drinking alcoholic beverages while walking down the street as opposed to
legally drinking on a patio.  After
a couple of neighborhood/community meetings, Scott decided to “get serious” and
invited our local politicians to a neighborhood meeting.   Scott believes in the power of
numbers, and he leveraged those numbers to hold a community meeting well
attended by residents, business owners and city leaders too.

Last
week he gathered about 50 people from the community-business owners and
residents, along with many local leaders including Mayor Byron Brown, Assemblyman
Sam Hoyt, Councilman David Rivera, B District Police Captain William Blake and
Jim Comerford of the Permits Department. 
First and foremost, Captain Blake and Rivera, who served on the force
for 20 years before being elected to the Common Council, urged people to call
911 when they observe something illegal or are the victim of a crime.  They both explained how 911 calls are
tracked and analyzed to allocate more resources.  The more calls an area gets, the more resources it gets.  Captain Blake also told us that police
officers don’t like being called to the same property over and over, not
because they are annoyed with citizens for calling, but because they are mad at
the criminals causing the problems. 
The officers know that if they get 3, 4 or 5 calls to the same area,
something is not right–and they want that illegal behavior to end.  While we all agreed that, in a perfect
world, a beat cop would be on every block, that is not our economic reality.  Still, Captain Blake is encouraging his
officers to get out of their cars and patrol on foot.  Captain Blake even gave out his direct dial so citizens
could communicate with him immediately.

Commissioner
Comerford addressed the vacancy problems, which are not only unsightly, but
often contribute to the criminal element. 
The Commissioner is committed to holding landlords responsible for code
violations by reassigning inspectors and hauling landlords into Court.  However, the Commissioner cited some
landlords who “know the system.” 
These are the landlords who retain top-notch legal talent, pay hefty
fines over and over with their seemingly endless supply of cash, and avoid
Buffalo and New York State when the Court issues a warrant for their
arrest.  These are the slumlords
that we need to kick out of our neighborhoods and city.  We all hear the same thing over and
over, businesses want to rent the spaces, but the rents are out of line with
the rest of the neighborhood, the landlord is unwillingly to make improvements
to the property, or the landlord is so incredibly hard to deal with that the
tenant moves his or her business elsewhere.  Clearly, market forces aren’t working on this block where
landlords use prime commercial space for anything but commercial
enterprise.  One landlord is trying
to sell his window space as billboard space and another uses the window to sell
merchandise at highly inflated prices. 
Does anybody really want a plastic bamboo plant for $175.00?  Who are these landlords and what are
their stories?  Stay tuned as we
dig into this very real and very threatening problem.

Hats
off to Scott Dunkle and the Bryant Street Block Club, who could have sat around
and complained, but instead reached out to residents and business owners.  

Image: Scott in front of a window for rent advertisement.

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