BUFFALO, N.Y. — A chain-link fence now surrounds more than a dozen properties near the intersection of Elmwood and Forest avenues, an indication that asbestos removal is underway and demolition may be near.
Before the developer can bulldoze these old buildings, though, it must fend off a last-ditch legal effort from neighbors and community activists.
Chason Affinity Companies already received approval from the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals to knock down 14 structures and replace them with a $30 million multi-use complex, which will include 40 condominiums, retail and parking.
However, a group represented by attorney Richard Lippes continues to seek any avenue possible to prevent the demolition. Last week, a judge denied their Article 78 proceeding, according to Lippes, but they plan to seek an injunction in appellate court.
Gretchen Cercone, who helped fundraise to cover legal costs, said the expensive court battle has been worth the effort.
"We're willing to take this as far as we need to take it, in order to protect the historic fabric of our neighborhood," Cercone said. "We have an entire block in the National Historic Register District, proposed to be bulldozed, and anyone who feels like that's a good idea probably doesn't understand the Elmwood Village."
In correspondence with the Preservation Board, which did not approve the development but has no jurisdiction to stop it, Chason Affinity maintained that it can legally demolish the buildings in the historic district. These structures are considered "contributing" to the historic district, but they are not historic landmarks themselves, the company argues.
Chason Affinity claims it has wide support for its project from many neighbors and business owners. That's certainly true for Jennifer Bronstein, who co-owns "Half + Half Boutique" on Elmwood Avenue, across the street from the proposed multi-use complex.
She's happy to see progress on the site, and she's thrilled at the economic prospects associated with the redevelopment of the Forest and Elmwood intersection.
"The whole community is going to wrap itself around it. It's great for us, great for our city. It's been a long fight but we're here," Bronstein said. "I think (Chason Affinity) wants to be here to make Buffalo great. And I think it's gonna be well-earned, and well-deserved."
Cercone, however, blamed Chason Affinity Companies for allowing the structures to deteriorate over the years.
The company has claimed the buildings were already falling into disrepair prior to purchasing them.
"Do those houses need to be improved? Yes, they do. We have a multi-million dollar developer who has owned those properties for over 10 years and has chosen not to do that, and now wants to be rewarded by having them demolished," Cercone said. "We don't agree that should happen."
Cercone and other neighbors and activists have support from State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo). His office told 2 On Your Side that the Assemblyman continues to follow developments with the appeals process. Ryan's office sent a letter to the city, urging it to halt any demolition. Last winter, Ryan commissioned his own renderings for a development on that corner that would not require demolition, in an effort to convince the company to reconsider its plans.
Bronstein said she believes the company has handled the process correctly and professionally. The company held several meetings and adjusted its project based on community feedback.
"I think the Chason group did everything they could possibly do to appease everybody," Bronstein said.