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St. Mary’s on the Hill

After a harried morning of phone calls and emails between City of Buffalo officials and preservationists, a compromise has been reached to delay what had seemed to be the imminent demolition of St. Mary’s on the Hill, the church at the corner of Niagara and Vermont whose New York City owners had allowed the structure to fall apart over many years.

The city had planned to push for an emergency demolition of the now roofless church and its largely intact attached buildings next week. But under pressure from activists and members of the Preservation Board, they’ve agreed to hold off until the property returns to housing court at the end of the month.

In essence, the city has told preservationists that the community has three weeks to come up with a viable plan for saving the structure. Otherwise it’s coming down.

Last spring, the City of Buffalo performed a “therapeutic demolition” on the structure, rather than tearing the whole thing down, at the insistence of preservationists who felt the red sandstone church had redevelopment possibilities, if only ownership could be transfered to more responsible and imaginative hands. So the city’s demo contractors stopped after removing the roof, which threatened to collapse, and installing a rather shoddy steel band at the top of the belltower. Developer Sam Savarino stepped forward with a plan to convert the structure into apartments and entered negotiations with the owner’s son, who acted as her Buffalo-based agent. On the strength of those negotiations, the owner’s kept city courts and code enforcers at bay, then backed away from Savarino and instead transferred ownership to another New York-based entity. (“Amansie Enterprises,” to whom I’m putting in a call as soon as I’m done typing this.) The new owners have been no more responsive to the state of the church than the previous owners, if indeed there is any distinction between them at all.

Now the City of Buffalo is ready to finish the job, and this time intends to take down the attached structures as well. Acting commissioner for permits and inspection Jim Comerford decided to seek an emergency demolition as soon as next week, citing the danger of the tower collapsing and calling the wide-open building an eyesore and an attractive nuisance.

In fact, it is an attractive nuisance, in part because they city did not fence off the structure after half-demolishing it. That responsibility may fall legally on the owners of the property, but certainly the city must understand the owners have no record of acting responsibly, which means the onus falls on government.

Comerford agreed to wait until the property’s next housing court date after a flurry of calls and email exchanges this morning.

  • Chester

    It’s clear that Comerford lacks the imagination to be in a position such as the one he now holds. I’ve seldom been as disheartened about Buffalo’s prospects as I was after reading his e-mail to Kathy Mecca that appeared in the News for a little while before they rewrote their story.

  • blightme

    How could the Episocpal Diocese not shed a tear over this story. They packed up and left the property in the early 90’s after a hundred years of service. They did the same to the Episcopal Church Home around the corner from St. Mary’s 5 years ago, leaving the historic and architecturally amazing Hutchison Chapel shuttered. Now both await the same fate as St. Mary’s. Didn’t the city own St. Mary’s before selling it to the current owner for $17,000? In essence, the city flipped this property to an out-of-towner who claimed she was going to turn it into a daycare, but never had to demonstrate the financial funds to do it. Perhaps this is why the city would prefer to make St. Mary’s disappear rather than face the embarassment of being unmasked as part of the problem.

  • Mark Williams

    Compliments of David Torke, I was able to view a slide show of the interior of this building. As a preservationist at heart, it pains me to see the wanton neglect that this building has suffered and I am astonished that any owner would simply walk away from it considering the location is not all that unacceptable.

    As an Irish Roman Catholic I have a huge problem with the Diocese of Buffalo walking away from these buildings and literally washing their hands of any and all responsibility. But yet, they would have no problem erecting a pole barn in Amherst as long as the congregation is ready to fill the faceless structure to capacity.

    In reality and from a structural designer’s point-of-view; the bell tower is going to collapse as the interior corner will collapse and fall into the building’s former naïve.

    It is only a matter of time and this is a point of contention as it could happen tomorrow or in ten-years as the damage is quite precarious. The only redeeming safety measure is the tower appears to be structurally sound at the other three corners.

    Speaking out of my area f expertise, but could the City of Buffalo practice a form of “eminent domain” and seize the property and deed it to Savarino Construction for redevelopment?

  • The loss started with Weisberg

    Any building touched by Weisberg and his associates ends up stripped and wrecked. Follow the building strippers and watch buildings and then neighborhoods crumble.

    Can’t the police work together with city planners to the more positive end somehow?

  • wildgirl

    tell me, when was the last time the cops were beneficial to local building enthusiasts? They’re too busy arrving after a crime and/or harassing poor people.