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Zoning Board urged to block home for sex offenders

The Common Council is unanimously asking city zoning officials to block plans to turn a Black Rock warehouse into a large group home for high-risk sex offenders.

Opponents said the site at 31 Tonawanda St., near Niagara Street, is inappropriate because of its proximity to residential neighborhoods, a bike-and-hike path and a day care center. Some lawmakers used Tuesday's meeting to complain that the city is saturated with facilities for parolees.

"The city is a dumping ground. Why isn't this in East Amherst?" Council President David A. Franczyk asked.

"I'm here to tell you, 'Not in my backyard,' " added Council Member Brian C. Davis, who said he had heard rumblings that a similar project might be in the works for his Ellicott District.

Neighborhood residents solidly oppose the plan by Saving Grace Ministries, even though advocates have promised that parolees would be closely monitored, said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., whose district includes the site.

Golombek said such facilities should be placed in areas not already densely populated. He cited state-owned land in Perrysburg about 35 miles south of Buffalo as an ideal spot for the facility that would house about 30 Level 3 sex offenders. The 649-acre tract, once the site of Buffalo's tuberculosis hospital, has been the subject of a three-year legal battle over plans to sell it to a logging company.

But Perrysburg Town Clerk Mary M. Watkins predicted any proposal to house sex offenders there would meet strong objections from area residents.

"And I don't know where you put them without spending a couple million dollars [on renovations]. These buildings are unusable," Watkins said Tuesday.

The Rev. Terry King of Saving Grace Ministries, the project's sponsor, did not attend Tuesday's Council meeting. But he previously emphasized that parolees would be released under a new state law that requires rigorous lifetime monitoring.

"Intense supervision proves to be the most effective deterrent," King said at a September meeting.

The project will be the focus of discussion tonight at a public meeting in the Northwest Buffalo Community Center, 155 Lawn Ave. The issue will be taken up immediately following a 6:15 p.m. meeting of the Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbors Planning Alliance.

The city Zoning Board, which has the final say, is expected to vote on the plan at its Dec. 19 meeting.

The Council also voted Tuesday to seek feedback from various parties on one lawmaker's push to try to spur interest in building a football stadium on the site of one of Buffalo's oldest public housing projects.

Davis said he believes the aging Commodore Perry Homes would be a perfect spot for a National Football League facility.

Davis, who grew up in the projects, said the complex is a relic from an era when society "warehoused poor people." Relocating 941 residents to better housing would be a spinoff benefit if the city and community leaders could bring a downtown stadium to fruition.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he credits Davis for "creative, out-of-the-box" thinking, but he was not sure the site would be suitable.

Brown said Perry Homes, bounded by South Park Avenue and Chicago, Scott and Hamburg streets, covers only 40 acres. Preliminary research by the mayor's office determined a stadium and parking would require at least 100 acres.

Others have pointed out that a major public investment has been made in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park in recent years.


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