I actually was optimistic on September 19 when I emailed the letter inserted below to the “Everybody’s Column” at the Buffalo News – the publication’s letter-to-the-editor (LTE) section. Despite expression of pessimism by a number of friends and fellow advocates, I believed that the editorial staff would publish my concerns about the chilling effect the newspaper’s approach to reporting zoning matters has on citizen’s willingness to voice their opinions at public hearings. My friends were correct.
So the only way “the world” will get to read my LTE is by publishing it on this humble platform. Here it is:
“September 19, 2020
Re: Chilling effect on public’s expression of concerns
Dear Everybody’s Column,
The Buffalo News is a staunch advocate of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press. For that I am grateful. I only wish they were as vigilant in protecting and encouraging two other freedoms assured in the same constitutional provision: freedom of speech and the right of the people to petition their government.
When business reporter Jonathan Epstein writes about proposed development projects at Buffalo city hall, he never tells the public that the developers’ attorneys – such as Marc Romanowski, Adam Walters, and Sean Hopkins – are repeatedly asking the zoning board for variances from the zoning code to allow their clients to build projects significantly out-of-scale and character from the structures allowed under the Green Code. Their constant repetition of the same one note goes unmentioned.
In sharp contrast, Mr. Epstein finds it noteworthy to advise this newspaper’s readers that members of the public – such as Dan Sack, Lorna Peterson, and myself – who appear at public hearings and raise concerns about the proposals before the zoning or planning board, or Common Council, are “frequent critics” of development projects. Those words are not meant as a compliment.
And it’s not just a reporter using this characterization.
The Buffalo News editorial board published an opinion piece two years ago in support of plans by a Buffum Street charter school to construct a high school building and gymnasium on land considered sacred by Native American tribes. That editorial attempted to disparage the concerns that I was raising on behalf of two neighbors by describing me as “a frequent critic of development projects.”
This newspaper’s approach has a chilling effect on the willingness of residents and taxpayers to stand up in public to voice their opinions to their government officials. It should be championing such action.
Sincerely, Arthur Giacalone“
It has been an exhausting week or two, so I’ll keep the remainder of this post short (at least, for me), hoping that a picture or two really is better than a thousand words.
Here’s the first picture:
And here’s a short version of the story.
On June 17, 2020, the Zoning Board of the City of Buffalo [ZBA] – despite strong opposition voiced by the three “frequent critics” mentioned in my unpublished LTE – approved 14 variances for “The Lawrence.” That development – proposed by Symphony Property Management LLC and Michigan Re-Dev LL – is a 133-unit, 4- to 5-story tall, 254-foot long, 129,072-square foot apartment “building” (I’m using quotation marks because it doesn’t look like a single building to my weary eyes).
Plans are to cram the The Lawrence onto what had been 15 parcels of land straddling Michigan Avenue (across the road from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus) and Maple Street, a small-scale residential street in the predominantly low-income, African American “Fruit Belt” neighborhood.
Too lazy (or, perhaps, too embarrassed) to vote for each deviation from the “Green Code” separately, the variances – many of them indisputably substantial – were adopted on one motion. A majority of the ZBA [kudos to the two dissenting members, Bernice Radle and Thomas Dearing] convinced themselves that the project was not out-of-scale or character with the adjoining residential neighborhood, and that any potential harm had been mitigated by changes by the developer’s architectural team to the Maple Street facade. Here’s the developer’s rendering of what I think of as “lipstick” being applied to the proverbial “hog”:
I happen to think that the ZBA should pay more attention to the concerns of the “frequent critics.” Do you agree?
With All Due Respect,