PREFACE: I really would like to engage the City of Buffalo’s Common Council in an honest, objective conversation regarding a proposal to create the “Linwood Lafayette Urban Development Assistance Area” at the site of the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital. So far I’ve had no takers. An April 2, 2019 post here expressed my primary concerns, and was sent to the nine members of the Common Council within a day or so of its posting. None of our city legislators replied (although Councilmember David Franczyk, while serving as chair of the legislative committee’s April 9th meeting, showed awareness of the issues I had posed, and kindly allowed me an opportunity to provide a “reader’s digest” version of my comments during the public meeting). I followed up with an April 11th email message to each of the Common Councilmembers – which is set forth in full below – inviting the elected officials to contact me with any questions raised by the email or the issues I had presented orally on April 9. Perhaps my letter-to-the-editor, printed in the April 15, 2019 Buffalo News – under the headline, “Pridgen wants to offer gift that may not be deserved,” will be more effective in generating a response. I’ll update this post if and when I hear from a Councilmember.
Meanwhile, here’s what I emailed to Buffalo’s governing body on April 11, 2019:
Common Council needs objective legal advice on BURA/TM Montante’s proposed UDAA, not a “fig leaf”
Dear Council President and Councilmembers,
I am writing to you as a City of Buffalo resident who strongly believes that government officials and agencies must consistently strive to make decisions that are consistent with the letter and spirit of the law. A lesser approach to governing weakens the public’s confidence in the fairness and integrity of both the decision-makers and the decision-making process.
As a lawyer who has spent more than four decades interpreting and studying state and local laws, I am convinced that the request by BURA and TM Montante Development to designate the Linwood Lafayette Urban Development Assistance Area (UDAA) contradicts the purpose of Article 16 of New York’s General Municipal Law (GML). [Please note, I am not opposed to TM Montante Development’s redevelopment plans at the site, only to the designation of the proposed UDAA as a mechanism for restarting the stalled project.]
In my professional opinion, an objective reading of GML Section 691 (Article 16’s “policy and purposes” provision) establishes that the creation of a UDAA was never intended as a mechanism for bailing out an under-financed developer whose plans for an ambitious private project have encountered unanticipated complications. To the contrary, Article 16’s generous incentives were designed to encourage hesitant private enterprises to partner with a municipality to correct blight and substandard conditions at city-owned properties that had been acquired through urban renewal or condemnation powers.
The authority to designate UDAA districts was intended to apply to narrow and specific circumstances which are not present at the Delaware-Linwood-Lafayette site. The limited applicability of Article 16 almost certainly explains why this body has not seen a similar request for many years.
As Buffalo’s governing body, you are collectively faced with a significant issue of legislative intent that will set an important precedent throughout the city, not merely in the Ellicott District. For that reason, I ask each of you to proceed cautiously and to give careful consideration to this matter before casting a vote to approve or disapprove the request.
While I appreciate the request made by Council President Pridgen at the April 9th legislation committee meeting for a written opinion on a number of legal issues raised during that proceeding, it is imperative that this body receive objective legal advice which will provide you with a meaningful basis for rendering your determination. With all due respect to Scott Billman, Esq., it is difficult to see how BURA’s general counsel – the person who prepared the “permission request” submitted to the Common Council and City Planning Board – is in a position to provide an unbiased and neutral assessment of the legality of the proposed designation. [You may also wish to question whether the city’s law department is able to provide objective legal advice on this issue given the Corporation Counsel’s position as a member of BURA’s board of directors.]
I am available to answer any questions that you may have regarding this correspondence, as well as the legal and factual matters that I previously raised at the April 9, 2019 legislation committee meeting, and in my April 2, 2019 blog post: https://withallduerespectblog.com/2019/04/02/proposed-linwood-lafayette-udaa-shamelessly-distorts-intent-of-law/.
Arthur J. Giacalone
Note: If you believe that the issue of compliance with the letter and spirit of our laws, and the integrity of governmental decision-making, are critical issues for the City of Buffalo, I urge you to contact one or all of the members of our city’s Common Council: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
With All Due Respect,