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City control board member due in Housing Court

The secretary-treasurer of Buffalo's control board is being hauled to Housing Court for dozens of code violations at four vacant properties owned by his not-for-profit development corporation.

The Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is listed as the defendant in a case that is scheduled to go before a judge Wednesday. Stenhouse heads the Bethel Community Development Corp., which city officials have credited with launching numerous development projects throughout the city.

The group owns four vacant structures on Michigan Avenue between East Ferry Street and Woodlawn Avenue. City inspectors have cited them for more than two dozen violations that range from peeling paint and rotting roofs, to broken windows, missing steps, loose railings, deteriorating walls and chimney problems.

An East Side block club leader claims the properties have been eyesores for years, and a city document confirms that at least one property spurred concerns as far back as 1999.

Stenhouse could not be reached to comment. A staffer in his office said he was out of town, and she could not provide the name of the attorney expected to appear at Wednesday's hearing before Housing Court Judge Henry Nowak.

Inspections Commissioner Richard M. Tobe said the court case resulted from an anonymous call to the city's complaint line. Tobe said he met with Stenhouse earlier this year, months before he was aware of any allegations of code violations. At the meeting, Stenhouse outlined plans to demolish the Michigan Avenue properties to make way for new housing, Tobe said.

Tobe, a former control board member, said Stenhouse and his development corporation have a solid track record on moving forward with projects. He said most of the violations spelled out in city documents appear to be "fairly modest" in severity.

"We would expect to work with Rev. Stenhouse to make sure the properties are sealed and to discuss schedules for demolition and new construction," Tobe said Monday.

He added that it's the city's policy not to be overly zealous in enforcing housing code violations that pose no safety risks in cases where development is planned.

But David Torke, president of the Woodlawn Block Club and a blogger who writes about conditions in city neighborhoods, said the Michigan Avenue properties have been eyesores for years.

"Those houses have just languished," he said. "If there are [development] plans, they haven't been articulated to the neighborhood."

Tobe said development delays sometimes are unavoidable because of difficulties in obtaining financing and other snags. In some cases, Tobe said, delays can be linked to city activities.

"We're frustrated with the pace of many developments," he said.

Stenhouse, a prominent inner-city minister, was appointed to the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority three years ago by then-Gov. George E. Pataki.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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