The Grass Is Always Greener
by Buck Quigley - posted 9:12 am, October 9, 2008
Speaking of the First Amendment Club, they received a notice of violation from the Department of Permit and Inspection Services dated October 2, informing them they are “in violation of Section 264-4a of the City of Buffalo Charter and Ordinances for failure to register the aforementioned property or properties as required by the Rental Registration legislation.” Failure to comply within five days would “result in an inspection and/or court action and a possible order to vacate all dwelling units involved.”
The First Amendment Club holds its meetings at a former bar on Bridgeman Street that sits right across the street from 260 Chandler, the former site of Buffalo Belting and Weaving, Inc., which was destroyed by arson in 2003. According to a press release at the time, Buffalo Belting and Weaving “manufactured on behalf of and sold products to the United States Department of Defense.” Notably, they manufactured the strong bands that are used on aircraft carriers to stop landing planes using a tail hook.
That vacant property is owned by the City of Buffalo, and the fields that stand in the footprint of the former factory have grown to a height of six feet. The field is a textbook example of the kind of thing South District Councilmember Mickey Kearns was referring to at yesterday’s meeting of the Common Council’s Legislation Committee—that lots of city-owned properties are untended even as more and more residents are being issued “quality of life” tickets for having tall grass.
Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency spent over $2.6 million cleaning up the site after the fire, due to “various chemicals and other substances that were in the building” when it burned. So, it should be safe to run a lawn mower over. Right?
Last week I called Sam Fanara, director of the Rental Registry, to see if he could tell me why the First Amendment Club was being targeted. The mailbox was full, so I couldn’t leave a message.
A spokesperson for the First Amendment Club tells me that there are no rental properties on the site.
This afternoon, I called again and spoke with Fanara. He told me he couldn’t speak to the press and referred me to Brian Reilly, commissioner of Inspections, Permits and Economic Development. The person who answered the phone put me through to the answering machine of his secretary, Bernadette Taylor. I didn’t feel like leaving a message, so I called back and was put through to Melanie Gregg, marketing manager under Reilly, who answers inquiries from the press.
Gregg told me that the First Amendment Club would first have to pay a series of fines for the past few years before they could apply to have the address re-zoned to indicate that it is not being used as a rental property but as a club. That procedure would also require a fee.
Since these quality of life tickets are a hot topic these days, I asked her what the difference was between a residence with 10-inch-high grass and the huge lot at 260 Chandler which is owned by the city and clearly hasn’t been maintained in years. Trees have sprouted there. Would the city have to pay a fine to the Department of Permit and Inspection Services for contributing to neighborhood blight?
Gregg told me she would contact the Mayor’s Impact Team and have someone look into it by the end of the week. “If we don’t know about it,” she began, “if nobody’s telling us the grass is getting long—”
I interjected, asking if it was the city’s responsibility to know which properties it owns, or if they just waited for people to call and complain. “I don’t wait for people to call me and tell me,” she concluded.
But since her office was trying to get money out of homeowners for the very violations the city itself is guilty of, I asked her if this was a double standard. “I really don’t have an answer for that,” Gregg said. “At the end of the day, I don’t have the authority to answer that question.”
To which I offered that, at the end of the day, there’s no good answer to that question. She agreed.