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West Side waiting game After years of delays, some
near the Peace Bridge plaza
want decisions to be made

Dorothy Nystrom feels trapped.

She's not alone.

Years of uncertainty about the Peace Bridge has cast a shadow over the Lower West Side neighborhood where Nystrom grew up and still resides. Indecision over where the U.S. plaza will be located has left her and other residents in a state of limbo, as housing values have dropped and neighborhood instability has risen.

"I'd like to downsize, and I want out of here," said Nystrom, who lives on Columbus Parkway in an area targeted for expansion of the plaza. "But I'm not going to give my house away."

Martha and Nathan Bliss also have their hands tied. The couple, who live on Massachusetts Avenue, have watched the houses on their once tight-knit street switch in recent years from owner-occupied homes to rental units.

"Most everybody has given up," said Martha Bliss, who raised four children in their home and now spends part of the year in Florida.

But the Blisses have not given up -- at least not yet. They hope to remain if the uncertainty around the bridge is resolved and the neighborhood is able to turn around.

Ron Rienas, the Peace Bridge Authority's general manager, said he empathizes with the neighborhood's plight.

"They've had this thing hanging over their heads now for 15 years," he said. "It's the uncertainty that's really made it difficult for the people in that neighborhood."

Rienas said he would like to write checks from the authority to some property owners to buy their homes now. But he said he can't do that in the middle of the ongoing environmental review.

Resolving the plaza situation is considered the last major hurdle before construction of a new Peace Bridge can begin. Three months ago, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would not allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement screening to occur on the Canadian side of the bridge, and last month the idea was scrapped entirely. The death of the shared border management proposal has revived a plan that would require building a large inspections plaza in the Peace Bridge neighborhood.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is calling for support of the plan and wants to accelerate the approval process so construction on a two-tower, cable-stayed companion bridge and expanded plaza can start next year.

Patricia Cody, who lives on Busti Avenue near Columbus Parkway, still needs some convincing. She said the Peace Bridge delays are "hopeless."

"I don't think I'll ever live to see anything done with the bridge," Cody said.

Two politicians who represent the neighborhood surrounded by Porter Avenue, Busti Avenue and Niagara Street say they are concerned about those who will remain there after the new plaza is completed. The current plan for the plaza includes five acres to serve as a buffer between the plaza and the neighborhood.

"We should be as worried about, or more worried about, those who remain as those who would be forced to leave," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo. "We have to work hard to work against creating a truck plaza ghetto."

Hoyt supports a "significant buffer" to separate neighbors from the plaza, even if it means taking additional homes. Not to do so, he said, will force visual blight, noise and lingering pollution onto those who remain.

Common Council Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. said he shares the concerns of those residents who fear the negative health effects of a large truck plaza carved into their neighborhood.

He said he hopes that the shared border management plan can be revivedw when a new administration takes over in Washington. Otherwise, he favors the "northern plaza" plan, which would push the plaza toward Niagara Street.

That option would require the demolition of more homes but would have the least negative impact on the community in the long run, he said. The "vast majority" of people he surveyed last year door-to-door and in meetings told him they would gladly sell their homes at a fair price, he said.

Real estate agent Carole Holcberg, president of Holcberg Ltd. Real Estate Brokerage, said that many sellers in the area have sold their homes despite the cloud hanging over the neighborhood.

For instance, she said four homes have sold on Columbus Parkway within a reasonable time period in recent months, and they also sold at or near their asking prices.

"In a general sense, the pending Peace Bridge plaza has really not had a significant effect on the open market. The market is at least holding its own on Columbus Parkway, if not better," Holcberg said.

Busti Avenue resident Esther Alessi Marinaccio worries residents will find themselves "left behind" once the location of the plaza is determined. The Peace Bridge Authority bought homes on her street in anticipation of clearing the area for the plaza's expansion.

Marinaccio said she reserves her anger for the Bush administration and the Department of Homeland Security for taking years to reach a decision on the shared border plan -- and then failing to spare her neighborhood by refusing to let the U.S. plaza be built in Canada.

"They should live here," she said. "These fumes hang in the neighborhood."

Nystrom said she grew tired of seeing her house fall into decline as she waited for the bridge impasse to be resolved, so last year she put on a new roof and applied a fresh coat of paint.

She didn't want her home to become a blight in her anxious neighborhood. Now, she said, she wants decision makers to show the same consideration.

"A lot of the residents are getting older," Nystrom said. "Decide something."


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