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PBA: Responsibility to a Neighborhood

Last November, we questioned the Public Bridge Authority’s
position as
slumlords in the Columbus Park neighborhood due to the
disrepair of 7 PBA-owned homes there.

As a result, the PBA’s general manager, Ron Rienas contacted BR
and requested an interview to dispute the claim that the PBA was being
neglectful.  During the course of the interview, Rienas said that it in
the original “ratified documents” – agreements made with the PBA under
the Masiello administration – it was the city’s due to raze the buildings.  Rienas
said that as a show of good faith, the PBA would secure the houses, but they
had no intention of fixing or keeping them.  “They’re not
historic,” Rienas had said at the time.  He promised to send the
ratified document along.

After receiving the document, and not seeing any verbage that
would corroborate Rienas’ statements concerning the City of Buffalo’s
responsibility for removing the homes, we contacted James Comerford, deputy
commissioner of inspections and licenses for the City of Buffalo.  When
asked whose responsibility it was to take down the houses, Comerford said the
answer was “sketchy,” but didn’t feel it was the city’s
responsibility. As long ago as last November, Comerford said, “It was more
an agreement about a series of improvements. Our objective right now is
code.”

At present, the Peace Bridge community is divided between those
who would like to see the badly decaying structures come down and others who
feel they would like them to be fixed, especially the 3 that are pending
placement on the historic register.  Rienas, however has reiterated his
statement from last year, that the PBA had no intention of sinking money into
structures that would eventually come down anyway, in Rienas’ view, to make way
for a newly expanded Peace Bridge truck plaza and eventual companion bridge.

Then, in March of this year, after the department of inspections
cited violations on the PBA owned properties, Rienas wrote:  “Your
letter directs the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) to address the violations cited
by May 1, 2009. We intend to do so by demolishing all of the PBA own
structures except for 783 Busti Avenue which is occupied by the Department of
Agriculture and provides services to the PBA Customs plaza.”
 Shortly after,
Mr. Rienas announced that demolitions on Busti would be “forthwith.”

Now, according to neighborhood spokesperson Kathleen Mecca, the
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Advisory Council on Historic
Preservation (ACHP) have recommended that the  PBA not demolish the houses,
as it could jeopardize federal-aid funding for the project because a completed
environmental and historical review has not been conducted as of yet.

In a letter sent out late last week by Kathleen Mecca, she
stated, “We are very pleased that FHWA and the ACHP took such swift action
in protecting the Prospect Hill historic district from further destruction by
the Public Bridge Authority.”

Mecca went on to say that since the summer of 2008, the FHWA has
issued 3 findings against the Public Bridge Authority’s plans; the
first-dealt with the rejection of the cable stay bridge design on the basis of
DEC standards; the second – in October, determined that the proposed 45
acre (currently17 acre) plaza footprint would have serious direct and indirect
negative impacts on the historical neighborhood and now the declaration that
not enough research has been done to weigh the impact of the house demolitions.

“These rulings, said Mecca, are what give the community the
teeth to reign in a Public Bridge Authority that is determined to circumvent
and violate Federal, State and Municipal rules and regulations in order to
force this poorly conceived project through.”

Mecca goes on to say that contrary to Mr. Rienas’ opinion that
the PBA is a “sole”
authority not subject to City ordinances or laws, the
FHWA decision indicates that there are legal, environmental, historical and
ethical obligations and responsibilities that the PBA must adhere to. 

The Olmsted Conservancy has it’s opinion also
about the PBA’s presence in the neighborhood, and not without some of the same
disdain Mecca feels for what she perceives as a PBA that runs roughshod over
quality of life issues in the Columbus Park – Prospect Hill neighborhood.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and Councilmember David Rivera have done
their part to stop the PBA from tearing the houses down also, sending a joint letter to the FHWA two weeks ago.  “These
properties have been languishing for years under the ownership of the PBA,” Hoyt contends.  “Instead of tearing down a huge section of this neighborhood, I urge the PBA to
become good neighbors and responsible property owners by fixing up these seven
homes on Busti Avenue.  Councilman Rivera and I are asking for nothing
more than what is expected of every other home owner in Buffalo.”

According to a Buffalo News article, Rinas said that the
authority would not fix houses “that are never going to be occupied.”

 

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