PBA Says Busti Demolitions Are Not for Plaza, Planning Document Shows Otherwise
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:55 am, June 28, 2012
Yesterday the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority released a statement announcing that it had successfully petitioned to have a lawsuit challenging its plans to demolish its Busti Avenue properties from state to federal court. The PBA maintains that it is a bi-national entity, created by acts of the US and Canadian governments, and that means federal courts have jurisdiction over the PBA’s actions.
The long planned replacement of these long-vacant and dilapidated homes with landscaped greenspace continues to be a priority for the PBA, as such activity is not related to any future plaza initiatives and offers immediate aesthetic improvements and certainty for the surrounding neighborhood area.
But at this moment I am looking at a drawing, a detail from an internal PBA document obtained by Artvoice, which clearly shows the Busti houses demolished to make space for features of a proposed plaza expansion. (I have promised not to publish the drawing, as doing so might identify its source.) The drawing seems like a more detailed rendering of a plan PBA general manager Ron Reinas showed Artvoice in January, after the long-debated plan for a new bridge officially died. It shows seven new inspection lanes fanning northeast toward Busti Avenue. The current Duty Free store is gone, replaced by a much bigger store on the site of the Episcopal Church Home. The seven Busti Avenue properties are gone, too, making way for a 90-car parking lot and a new road that will direct traffic to the new Duty Free an onto the bridge. All of this new infrastructure—and the historic Hutchison Chapel on the campus of the church home, which the PBA will preserve—is surrounded by a wall.
Going by the drawing, it looks like the demolitions have nothing to do with greenspace or buffer zones at all. The drawing shows a “buffer area,” but it comprises the backyards of the demolished properties.
Matt Davison, a spokesman for the PBA, says that the authority has done a poor job explaining what he describes as a “nuanced” position: He says that the PBA’s board of directors wants to tear down those buildings for greenspace whether it wins the necessary approvals for an expansion, and in that sense, he says, the demolitions are unrelated to any expansion plan. Davison says the PBA is uncertain that any expansion plan will be approved, especially one that depends on Buffalo’s Common Council transferring ownership of Busti Avenue, as the plan contemplated in the drawing requires.
No matter where one stands on the PBA’s proposed plaza expansion, the authority’s insistence that the demolitions are not connected to the proposal has been maddening. It reinforces long-held distrust of the PBA (and state authorities generally, for that matter) and a reputation for duplicity, which Reinas has said he is eager to reverse. Common sense must prevail: The PBA wants to expand its plaza, and specifically it wants to expand onto the properties it owns on Busti Avenue. Demolition of the houses on those properties is and always has been the first step in realizing that ambition.
The source of the drawing described above says it is a recently produced document, and it jibes with a less detailed drawing that the PBA’s Reinas showed Artvoice back in January. This is the plan. So why pretend otherwise?