Buffalo’s Common Council should not approve the sale of former School No. 70 on Buffum St. to an affiliate of Carl Paladino’s Ellicott Development company without first hearing from nearby residents in this quiet South Buffalo neighborhood – whether or not Mayor Byron Brown’s administration considers the leasing of the closed school property to an existing charter school as an appropriate use.
My home is less than two blocks from Buffum Street – a well-kept and attractive residential street in the Cazenovia Park section of South Buffalo running three or four blocks between Seneca Street and Fields Ave. I walk the length of Buffum virtually every day, so I’m very familiar with the lack of traffic on the street, and the presence of two historic gems, the Seneca Indian Park at its eastern end:
and 83 Buffum St. – “The oldest house in South Buffalo” – a block from Seneca St.:
I also am well aware of the presence of the former School No. 70 property on the north side of Buffum:
Built in 1915, and, from all outward appearances, in excellent condition, the former elementary school is situated across the narrow street and four or five houses west of the Seneca Indian Park, and several houses east and across the street from the historic 83 Buffum St. site:
From time to time, I’ve chatted with Buffum Street-area residents about the former elementary school, marveled about the size and beauty of the site, and wondered about its future. None of the neighbors wished to see the century-old structure sit idle, but all were concerned about an incompatible use:
To my surprise, while checking the City Common Council’s October 4, 2016 agenda (on the afternoon of Oct. 3rd), I discovered the following entry:
I bicycled down Buffum St. after dinner on the 3rd, and, not surprisingly, discovered that the vast majority of neighbors were unaware of the imminent sale of the property to the Ellicott Development affiliate, or the fact that the papers filed with the Common Council offer the following information:
(1) The developer intends to lease the property to “an existing [unspecified] charter school.” [Note: The Maritime Charter School, which includes a high school, has been mentioned as a entity in search of a new home.]
(2) Ellicott Development’s plans include construction of a 45,000-square-foot building (including a gymnasium) and an athletic field.
(3) The developer’s “environmental assessment form” fails to mention the proximity of the school property to the Seneca Indian Park, and proclaims that the proposed action would NOT result in “a substantial increase in traffic above present levels.”
The submissions to the Common Council, apparently prepared by the City’s Department of Real Estate in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, also contain the following disturbing statement: “Pursuant to City Code Chapter 168-5.B(8) the City of Buffalo’s review ordinance exempts the sale of City property, under 50 acres, from SEQR [State Environmental Review Act] review by designating it a Type 2 Action.”
In my opinion, excluding the sale of all city property under 50 acres in size from the scrutiny and public participation intended by SEQR – which defines “environment” broadly to include the existing neighborhood character and traffic levels – violates the intent and requirements of the State environmental review law. As such, the exemption is unlawful. The City of Buffalo’s environmental review ordinance may not provide its residents with less protection than is envisioned by the State’s regulations, which do NOT exclude such significant land dispositions from environmental review. Also, separating the step of selling the land from the project sponsor’s proposed use of the property constitutes “segmentation” of an action, unlawful under SEQRA.
The neighbors surrounding the former School No. 70 site deserve better from their public officials!
I urge the Common Council to refrain from taking any steps to approve the sale of this significant public asset until the voices of the surrounding neighborhood can be heard.
With All Due Respect,