St. Mary’s on the Hill
by Geoff Kelly - posted 2:43 pm, April 8, 2010
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.