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Rebounding opportunity for 794 Potomac

As I approached the property at 794 Potomac, Bart Melchiorre, a local electrician and builder was standing in the driveway smoking a cigarette. The snow is falling as I make my way up the driveway, and he begins to give me a tour of the property.

Two bricks from the chimney lay lonely in the lawn, the roof is deteriorating, and the paint is peeling off the exterior. The vinyl siding on the aluminum windows does nothing to help this scenery.

This house is falling apart.

I make my way inside to be greeted by the smell of incense. I seat myself on the couch adjacent to Beverly Barry and her brother, the homeowner, Dennis Barry. A beautiful, large black cat is rubbing against me, and Dennis begins to tell me his story.

“I can’t afford to stay here . . . I’ve been fixing the house up for a long time, but after my girlfriend died six years ago, I haven’t done much,” Dennis said.

Dennis is a disabled veteran. He has owned the house for 17 years. His girlfriend of 28 years once ran a jewelry shop on Elmwood. Dennis used to run an auto repair shop behind his house.

After suffering from breast cancer, Dennis’ girlfriend passed away six years ago. Ever since, the house has fallen into disrepair. In the last 10 years, Dennis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. About a year and a half ago, he severely injured his back and hasn’t been able to work, making it difficult to maintain the property. The property fell victim to foreclosure, and now Dennis owes $300,000 to the bank – an amount he cannot afford.

But then, a light from the sky shone down on Dennis – the Frizlen Group was going to transform the house into a 13-unit project to fit into the neighborhood, or so Dennis thought (see back story). It was news to him when the group presented the project as a 26-unit home, which caused concern amongst the neighbors who worried about parking and congestion. The neighbors put together a petition and the issue was brought to the Buffalo Preservation Board, whom decided they would appear in front of the Common Council to declare his home historical.

“They say there are five out of nine characteristics that make it a historical preservation, but none of the people on the Preservation Board have ever stepped foot inside this house,” Beverly said.

The board has claimed that the property is a John C. Lord house. There is no evidence that Lord lived in the house, or if anything historical happening there. However, he lived in a house down the street on Potomac and Delaware – a much larger dwelling, which has been torn down.

The development would be a much smaller scale project, approximately eleven single family units, more suitable for the neighborhood.

Now Melchiorre plans to buy the property back from the bank and transform it into condo, with Dennis as his partner. This would prevent Dennis from losing his only asset, and would bring new property owners to the neighborhood. Property values would increase, increased taxes would be paid to the city – everyone wins. The only thing standing between the possibilities is the Preservation Board. Beverly said the board is going to run the risk of seeing an already rundown property that cannot be maintained, becoming an increasingly blighted site in a beautiful neighborhood.

“I’m disheartened by the Preservation Board. They are going to ruin someone’s life because they think the house is worthy of saving. If they go through with this, the house will probably go up for auction. If the house is sold for less than what is owed, my brother is stuck with that financial burden,” Beverly said.

Beverly, Dennis, and Bart believe the new, smaller-scale project will contribute to the livelihood of the neighborhood and will be agreeable to the neighbors.

A meeting by invitation with the neighbors has been scheduled for next week. They have sent out 130 invitations and are hoping to get the locals to rally behind them and prevent the board from declaring this property historic.

Written by Sara Ali

Sara Ali

Sara is a freelance writer living on Buffalo's West Side. She works full time in human services, part time in freelance, and is currently working towards her endeavor to create a nonprofit focused on telling the stories of the refugee and immigrant communities.

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