West Side Story
by Geoff Kelly - posted 4:47 pm, June 23, 2008
Scott Talvitie and Erika Hedberg returned to Buffalo a few years back and have been slowly and thoughtfully rehabbing a house at 374 West Ferry, between Richmond and Grant, which had been on the city’s demo list. Last Year Talvitie and Hedberg discovered that the vacant house at 366 West Ferry had been slated for demolition, just as their house at 374 had been, before they stepped in and took ownership. Talvitie and Hedberg petitioned the city to stop the demoltion of 366 West Ferry with the intention of purchasing and rehabbing the house themselves; their primary motivation, Talvitie told me back then, was to maintain the integrity of the block in which they’d invested.
That didn’t happen and the city took down 366 West Ferry, despite Talvitie and Hedberg’s efforts. Now, La Nova Pizzeria wants to turn the property into a parking lot. Talvitie and Hedberg sent the following letter to Mayor Byron Brown and the Common Council today. It’s long, but worth the read (after the jump):
374 West Ferry Street
Buffalo , NY 14213
21 June 2008
Mayor Byron Brown
City Hall Room 201
65 Niagara Square
Buffalo, NY 14202
Dear Mayor Brown,
There has been much discussion as of late regarding the fate of the vacant property located at 366 West Ferry Street . This residential area is a direct corridor to the Grant-Ferry business district, poised for revitalization if it isn’t further compromised by poor planning decisions and ill-advised development. 366 West Ferry is an ideal opportunity for the citizens of this area to extend the success of the Elmwood District into the Grant/Ferry corridor.
West Ferry Street takes pedestrians and vehicular traffic from the circle at Richmond westbound to Grant Street, and 366 West Ferry sits right on the middle stretch of this corridor. The entire block on which the house at 366 used to exist is otherwise complete; no other houses have been torn down along the West Ferry side. The remaining homes are mostly owner-occupied with a couple of rentals that are well-managed by their owners. We feel that 366 is poised to be a cornerstone for this block, and the possibility of a parking lot at this location is anathema to this notion. A much more responsibly-conceived green space planned by professional architects and landscape designers, who have already committed to this project, would increase residential property values and would affect efforts at population retention/attraction, which directly impacts the city tax base. It would enliven a spirit of community among the neighborhood, and would even be good, aesthetically, for La Nova’s. A parking lot would do none of these things.
There are a plethora of sound, weighty reasons why the sale of this vacant lot to La Nova’s Pizzeria is a very poor decision. Without a reasoned discussion, these reasons may never be brought to the table. La Nova’s has “cried wolf” that they might leave their location should they not get their way, and your administration has held their hand from the initial demolition of the property through the Real Estate Division all the way to the Common Council. Since the zoning board is appointed by the Mayor, it stands to reason that La Nova’s can expect Mayoral influence there too.
It is counterintuitive that La Nova’s would abandon their location if they don’t acquire this lot, but even if they were to leave, it is inconceivable that their business location would go without a tenant for very long; other pizzerias would jump at the chance to take over their highly trafficked location. The city has already greatly helped La Nova’s with Empire Zone tax credits and countless other assistances. When will your administration do something to help the homeowners and taxpayers in this area?
The reasons for denying La Nova’s bid to purchase the property at 366 West Ferry are numerous:
Any attempt to re-zone the lot as a parking lot will be diligently, fervently opposed by the homeowners in the immediate and larger area, as well as by the Grant Ferry Association and several community block clubs (please see attached petitions). Without zoning board approval, and short of a parking lot, La Nova’s has no design to enhance the neighborhood by improving this vacant lot.
La Nova’s doesn’t maintain the parking lots they have. Their garbage blows from their parking lots all over the neighborhood, generates rodents, and they allow their employees and patrons to park in a completely haphazard manner, to the severe detriment of pedestrian traffic, NFTA bus routes, and the safety of passing vehicles. We have a lot of photographic documentation to support this claim. Every weekend we sweep up the streets, boulevards, and sidewalks of the intersection of West Ferry and Hampshire, and a great majority of the garbage removed is from La Nova’s – napkins, pizza boxes, chicken bones, pizza crusts, empty plastic chicken wings bags, submarine sandwich wrappers, etc. It isn’t difficult to figure out to whom this stuff belongs, because most everything generated by La Nova’s says “La Nova’s”!
La Nova’s already owns at least two vacant lots on the Hampshire Street side of their property that directly abut their property that could provide more than ample parking to solve their current parking problems. Presently these are gravel lots and are underutilized as parking, aside from being an eyesore.
A parking lot at 366 W. Ferry would reduce the residential property values on this block; it would simply look terrible. A green space/micro-garden would look phenomenal.
There is already ample parking in the area, albeit ill-conceived. Any urban planner with ten minutes to look over this idea would agree, and several have. Their voices may be coming forward soon in the media.
A parking lot would greatly discourage the citizens who have for years been putting sweat equity into this area, cutting the grass for senior citizens who can’t, getting the city to plant trees, sweeping the streets, citizens who have been holding down the fort against the encroaching drug dealers, squatters, and criminals. Mayoral support for a parking lot in the face of so much opposition will cause citizens to distrust your administration and the system at large. A parking lot would make these denizens feel that their tax dollars and their elbow grease are unappreciated. At its heart, this is a quality of life issue.
La Nova’s may have dozens upon dozens of employees, but most are part-time with a frequent turn-over, and few of these are skilled positions. Of the skilled employees, we wonder how many are actually city residents. Further, the bulk of La Nova’s employees have no regard whatever for the negative impact they perpetuate in our community. They simply don’t care. Just a couple of weeks ago, on Thursday night 6/12/08 at 1:15am , we were awoken by a fireworks display originating in La Nova’s parking lot. We went outside to ask them to cease the activity, only to witness that it was not only the part-time La Nova’s pizza delivery guys doing this, but also La Nova’s management. There were eight full-grown male adults lighting off fireworks in La Nova’s parking lot at 1:15am on a week-night, seemingly oblivious to the honest, hard-working residents who live all around the business and who have to get their children to school and go to work the next morning. When we confronted them, the employees told us to “get used to it,” followed by laughter. This is, by far, not an isolated incident.
La Nova’s employees are obnoxious, disrespectful, and detrimental to our community. The blaring music from their car stereos, their late-night parking lot antics, and their drug use habits all negatively impact our neighborhood. Check the 911-records from the last three years, and you’ll see how many late-night calls have been registered against La Nova’s for their disrespectful, unlawful, and disruptive behavior. Two houses in the immediate area were raided for dealing heroin and crack-cocaine two years ago, and on more than one occasion we witnessed La Nova’s employees frequenting these houses on their breaks. It’s easy to pick them out, because they wear brightly-colored La Nova’s t-shirts.
You have “[stressed] the importance of keeping [La Nova’s] in the Grant-Ferry area” (Buffalo News 6/3/08 ). In light of everything above, can you please explain how the self-aggrandizing intentions of this business are more important to this community than the very real needs of its denizens? Why does one pizzeria have your audience while all the homeowners of this neighborhood do not? As far as we are concerned, the only cogent comments to come out of city hall so far on this issue were those of our Councilman, David Rivera, when he observed that “something stinks here” (Buffalo News 6/19/08).
The children in our area have no green space whatsoever. Residents and homeowners do what we can with postage-stamp front yards, but the sidewalk is the kids’ main play venue. A green space on this block would afford children and adults in the area a much needed respite from the concrete jungle and constant traffic that is otherwise our front yard.
The issue of 366 W. Ferry’s demolition is another interesting concern. There are several houses in the area that have been on the demolition list much longer and are in a far greater blighted state than 366 was. The owner lost the property in housing court just last summer. We walked through the property with the Real Estate Division’s maintenance crew right after the city acquired it, and as compared with other nearby blighted structures that we have also walked through, it was in poor but not particularly dangerous shape; we have the photographs to prove this claim. We tried to acquire the property through John Hannon of the Real Estate division. He rarely returned our phone calls and made the proposition of rehabilitating this structure such an uphill battle that we eventually gave up. In retrospect, his agenda (your agenda) seems clear.
That the city fast-tracked and paid for demolition of this property, with full knowledge of La Nova’s parking lot interest well before the demo, reeks of political favoritism, cronyism, and abuse of taxpayer monies. If Mr. Bockstahler of 65 Arnold St. had gone to the Buffalo Real Estate division before 366 was demolished to express his interest in the property for the purpose of expanding his backyard and increasing his property value (and, in turn, his property taxes, as his assessment would certainly increase), it is likely the real estate division would have told him that he needed to pay for the asbestos abatement and demolition, and with La Nova’s agenda in mind, would probably have put so many roadblocks in his way that he, too, would have given up.
In light of a considerable counter-offer the city received last week for the lot, why would the city want to settle for La Nova’s $3,700 for this property? Aren’t there other considerations that should be deliberated? The monetary value that the neighboring property owners stand to lose with the installation of a parking lot is much greater than the $3,700, $4,700, or even $10,000 that the city could expect from this sale. The monetary loss that neighboring property owners would suffer should far outweigh any benefit that a private parking lot would afford. Before the city ushers in a new parking lot for La Nova’s, why doesn’t the city hold La Nova’s accountable for maintaining the property they have? It isn’t that we begrudge La Nova’s the opportunity to continue their business – we don’t – it’s that we can’t take any more of their negative impact on our community, and we abhor their existing irresponsible business practices.
Mayor Brown, this decision will have an enormous effect on our quality of life in this neighborhood. As far as the many people who have voiced their opinions in this matter are concerned, for whatever reason, you have chosen to take up the agenda of one pizzeria over the very reasonable agenda of the many taxpayers, property owners, community activists, and voters of Buffalo . You have the opportunity to do the right thing here. In the long-term, it is in the best interest of the City of Buffalo that the denizens of this area are owner-occupied, property-maintaining, voting taxpayers with access to green space. Alienating these individuals, particularly in such a high-profile manner and in such a high-profile location, will be something that those involved will be very slow to forget. This is an opportunity to do something meaningful and lasting for our residential community. Please do the right thing.
Scott Talvitie & Erika Hedberg
Cc: City Clerk Gerald Chwalinski; Councilmember David Rivera; Councilmember Brian Davis; Councilmember Richard Fontana; Councilmember David Franczyk; Councilmember Joseph Golombek; Councilmember Michael Kearns; Councilmember Michael LoCurto; Councilmember Bonnie Russell; Councilmember Demone Smith; Robert Franke, Exec. Dir. Grant Ferry Association; Harvey Garrett, Exec. Dir. West Side Community Collaborative; Zoning Board Chairman James Lewis III; Brian Meyer; Buffalo News Editor; Artvoice Editor; Buffalo Rising Editor; Buffalo Rocket Editor