The city department that is supposed to promote economic development is becoming an impediment to some businesses, a Common Council ally of Mayor Byron W. Brown charged Tuesday.
A furious Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis assailed the Department of Economic Development, Permit and Inspections Services for unfairly targeting some businesses and for having misplaced priorities. His complaints were echoed by University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell.
Davis, who represents much of downtown, said he knows of several businesses that were treated in heavy-handed ways by the city, while other establishments that cause more problems have been left alone.
"Something needs to be done about this department," said Davis, who also complained about inspection delays.
The controversy surfaced as the Council approved, with conditions, a license for a downtown nightclub that inspectors closed earlier this month. Enforcers said the Town Ballroom at 681 Main St. did not have all the required licenses.
Tuesday's Council action will enable the club to reopen in time for tonight's concert that features singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick.
Davis insisted the city bears much of the responsibility for the licensing problem because it mistakenly sent the club a renewal notice. The owners, who took over the club in 2005, thought the notice meant they were in compliance.
Davis said the injustice was compounded when police arrested the club's owner and charged him with obstruction because he held a private party in the building after inspectors ordered the building closed. The charge against Artie Kwitchoff was dismissed.
Davis claimed this isn't the only case where the city has taken unduly harsh actions against responsible business owners.
"It's disgraceful what this department is doing to businesses in downtown Buffalo," he said.
But the mayor's communications chief denied that the city has acted unfairly. Peter K. Cutler said inspectors and police officers have a duty to enforce laws, adding that they carry out such enforcement in an evenhanded way. Cutler also disputed Davis' claim that the Town Ballroom may have been singled out by the city in part because some shows cater to "minorities." Cutler said the allegation is baseless.
Commissioner Richard M. Tobe, who heads inspections, said he met several times with the Town Ballroom owner and worked out a solution that was satisfactory to everyone. He disputed any contention that the city has double standards when it comes to code enforcement.
"We treat all establishments fairly under the law," Tobe said.