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Court Reverses Zoning Board on Proposed New-build Near Peace Bridge

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.

  • Jim Kane

    Congratulations to Mr. Coppola for having the courage of his convictions to take on “The Great Publicly Funded – But Not Public – Bridge Authority” and their so-called “juggernaut” of a transportation project more aptly described as the new “Bridge to Nowhere.”

    The “Juggernauts” in charge the PBA have now wasted $50 MILLION of our U.S. Federal tax dollars on an “umpteen” number of environmental studies, plaza workshops, bridge design “charettes”, Bi-National public panels and all the expenses associated with paid lobbyists, public relations, advertising firms, a gaggle (no pun intended) of lawyers, and political contributions meant to keep their 20 years of failure well funded for how many more years?

    If the statement “the authority would just have to add his property to those subject to acquisition.” isn’t arrogant enough for the political leadership in this community to take notice and put an end to our tax money supply — then thank God for one man willing to stand up for justice and another Judge who recognizes the havoc wreaked on a community that has been all but abandoned by our elected representatives. They may be our only hope.

  • Peter

    The judge’s statement, “the city’s ordinances weren’t changed by the PBA’s plans,” seems to rely on the law, not on any recognition of “havoc wreaked…,” etc.

  • peterjoe

    How many YEARS does it take for the Public Bridge Authority–and especially the ridiculous posturing of Chief Operating Thug Ron Reinas–to become the PUBLIC JOKE they realy are?

    And The Zoning Board of Appeals, using the rationale they did for denial of variance; talk about serving up a creampuffI’ve heard more carefully reasoned arguments in grade school playgrounds. No, not recently, I mean when I was in grade school.

  • not ron rienas

    Ambassador Bridge & Jim Kane, take responsibility for your property before casting stones at the PBA.

    Ambassador Bridge bought properties on Tonawanda Street under false pretenses and straw-man company names. These properties have suffered mysterious fires, been overgrown and neglected. Ambassador Bridge properties are graffiti-strewn and hazardous to the community and adjacent to the Bike Path.

    Tee to Green owned by Ambassador was torched, they did nothing except ignore it. Ambassador is worse to the community than the PBA.

  • Jim Kane

    And you are?

  • blight me

    The Zoning Board, Buffalo News and several public officials owe Al Coppola an apology for all the name calling they’ve shoveled out over the past few years. Clearly, there is something very wrong with city ordinances that further the ‘ghettoizing’ on Buffalo’s West Side. I wonder if elected officials who support this despicable practice understand the definition of ‘lunacy’. Oops…isn’t this an election year for the Mayor?

  • Kathy

    “Arbitrary” and “Capricious” and oh sooooo blatantly political says it all. Once again Mayor Brown has showed his hand in favor of the half-baked PBA expansion project by allowing his appointees on the Zoning Board to cut loose with their ridiculous decision. The Mayor wants to turn 45 acres of the west side into a trucking zone instead of embracing neighborhood development. Does anyone question why?

    The public has learned that every time the PBA has been legally challenged, they have lost. But since the taxpayers foot the retainer for Kavinoky and Cook, the legal eagles for the PBA, the bridge authority is happy to waste our hard earned money subsidizing their arrogance. They just keep adding it to the $50 million tab they started running up 20 years ago. Until our elected officials demonstrate the political will to stop them, the PBA will keep feasting off of our tax dollars.

    When is enough ENOUGH?

  • Disclosure

    In the interest of full disclosure Jim Kane represents the Ambassador Bridge. Read about how they conduct their bridge business in Detroit/Windsor in this article

  • John Q Blogger

    Amen Kathy.

    Right on Al!

    Thanks Sam Hoyt and David Rivera!

  • Jim Kane

    Re Disclosure: In the interest of full disclosure, who are you?

  • Rick Tracelent

    Mr. Kane, Manuel Moroun, and others at Ambassador Bridge;
    Please address the following code violations at Tee to Green and the Tonawanda Street properties that you own:
    1.) Repair the fence breaches on the Scajaquada Trail side
    2.) Remove the graffiti
    3.) Secure and/or improve the buildings upon the property
    4.) Cut the grass
    Since you are an absentee owner and out of town, there are many companies who provide this service should you require any assistance in addressing these code violations. Their numbers are in the phone book and online under “property maintenance” and “landscaping”.

    City Housing Court can also provide direction to resources later should you be unable to find them soon.

    Thank you, and good luck in your future endeavors!

  • bflofirst

    fantastic. and shame on the buffalo news for all the bad reporting and mostly non reporting on this issue. Thanks goodness we have ArtVoice who actually does some investigations and reports facts.