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New storage facility sought for impounded vehicles

Buffalo is looking for a new place to store abandoned and impounded vehicles, hoping to vacate a decaying West Side facility that has been a magnet for vandals and burglars.

Roof problems at the Dart Street complex became so severe earlier this month that the city's finance chief ordered crews to move many vehicles from part of the building, parking them in the facility's outside yard.

"We had a strong concern that a piece of roof could fall down and injure workers or members of the public," Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said Friday.

The 100,000-square-foot former steel plant is used by the city to store abandoned vehicles and cars that have been towed for unpaid fines. But vandals have had an easy time prying open the building's sheet metal walls. In recent years, dozens of motorists have filed claims against the city for damaged or stolen property. Since April 2005, more than $14,000 in such claims were filed.

When some vehicles had to be moved outside for safety reasons, the city hired security crews, Penksa said. She added that sufficient "around the clock" security is being provided when one considers that private crews are supplementing efforts by impound employees and roving police patrols.

Thursday, two Buffalo men were arrested after they allegedly broke into the auto impound and stole car stereo equipment from several cars, police said. Muneef Abdulrab, 23, of Main Street, and Hisham Alamari, 16, of Pennsylvania Street, were accused of cutting a hole in a fence at about 9 a.m. They are charged with burglary, criminal mischief, criminal possession of stolen property and grand larceny.

A year ago, the city set aside $1.3 million to pay for repairs and enhanced security at the complex located off Grant Street. But Penksa said the city delayed making the costly repairs after a prospective buyer expressed interest in acquiring the site and demolishing the aging building for a project. Officials would not disclose the buyer, citing ongoing negotiations.

The city didn't want put over a million dollars into a building that might be sold and torn down, Penksa said.

The facility has faced intense criticism ever since Buffalo paid $1.2 million for it eight years ago and moved the auto impound there from a shabby site on Tonawanda Street. Some Common Council members who fought the acquisition branded the Dart Street site a "dump."

Over the years, conditions have worsened. Motorists passing the facility on the Scajaquada Expressway see a structure with shattered windows and damaged walls. The city spent only what it had to for stopgap repairs.

"But this needs some perspective -- we did have a fiscal crisis," Penksa said. "Now that we're no longer in crisis, we are going to take aggressive action to address the problem."

City officials already have at least one site in mind for a new auto impound, but Penksa wouldn't disclose the location.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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