Court Reverses Zoning Board on Proposed New-build Near Peace Bridge
by Geoff Kelly - posted 3:47 pm, June 17, 2009
George Sax reports from the Peace Bridge front:
Tuesday, State Supreme Court Judge Frank A. Sedita, Jr.’s courtroom was the setting for the latest skirmish in the long-running war between the Public Bridge Authority and opponents of its Peace Bridge and customs plaza expansion plans. The PBA’s plans weren’t the matter formally before the court—that was an appeal of a Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals ruling—but it was always a backdrop to the proceedings and two months ago it was made a more prominent element by a PBA representative.
In an oral opinion delivered from the bench, Sedita overruled the zoning board’s refusal to grant a small size variance for former Buffalo Common Councilmember Alfred T. Coppola’s proposal to construct a residence at 762 Columbus Parkway. That site lies within the boundaries of the PBA’s planned expansion.
Coppola has been a leading opponent of the expansion, and an advocate for residents in or near the area slated by the PBA for acquisition and demolition. Early this year, when he announced his intention to purchase the Columbus Parkway site and erect a house, the deal was immediately fraught with political tensions and conflicts. On April 17, Peace Bridge general manager Ron Rienas wrote to Thomas Chwalinski, executive secretary of the zoning board, advising him of the PBA’s opposition to granting the requested variances. Rienas, who has appeared at a number of public forums over the last year to dispute Coppola’s arguments, told Chwalinski that since the authority “will be proceeding with property acquisition, including, if necessary, the use of eminent domain…it would be incongruent to allow for the construction of a two-story house…” Reinas also reminded Chwalinski that Coppola “is on record as being vociferously opposed to the PBA plans.” When the zoning board refused his application last month it questioned Coppola’s motives in building on the site.
According to Peter Kooshoian, Coppola’s lawyer, Sedita dismissed this consideration, saying it was inappropriate for the board to raise it. “The judge said that the city’s ordinances weren’t changed by the PBA’s plans,” Kooshoian told Artvoice. The board had indicated, he said, that his client’s building plan “wasn’t appropriate in light of the PBA’s plans. That was one of my problems with their decision.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Coppola said Sedita called the zoning board’s decision “capricious” and “arbitrary.” He said he only wanted to “help revitalize and preserve” a beautiful neighborhood that was threatened by the PBA’s plans.
Telephoned requests to the zoning board for a response went unanswered Wednesday. Rienas told Artvoice that if Coppola was successful in his venture, the authority would just have to add his property to those subject to acquisition.
Wednesday, a source in the city’s law department who didn’t wish to be identified said the department was waiting for Kooshoian to draft a proposed order for Sedita to sign before it decided whether to appeal.