Plans to turn a Black Rock warehouse into a large group home for high-risk sex offenders met with vehement opposition Wednesday during a meeting in Northwest Buffalo Community Center.
The forum, presented by the Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbors Planning Alliance, attracted more than 100 neighborhood residents, community leaders and elected officials, nearly half of whom spoke at the meeting.
All of them spoke in opposition to the proposal by Saving Grace Ministries, which is seeking variances through the city zoning board to transform a property at 31 Tonawanda St., near Niagara Street, into a 30-bed residential facility that would serve as transitional housing for recently released sex offenders.
Peter Sowiski, a retired Buffalo State College professor, echoed the concerns of many that the plan is entirely inappropriate for a residential community.
"I'll leave to others to deal with the specifics of the recidivist rate and other factors regarding these offenders," Sowiski said. "I'd just like to add my two cents to the general idea that this is an extremely bad, negative, shortsighted and could not be more completely wrong as an idea."
The Rev. Terry King of Saving Grace Ministries, the project's sponsor, attended the forum and bore the brunt of opponents' ire.
"I just want to make the point that Rev. King lives in Williamsville, and it's typical of outsiders to come to our neighborhood with a project that's detrimental to our neighborhood," said Scott Glasgow of the Niagara-Amherst Block Club.
Mary Ann Kedron, chairwoman of the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance, said the proposal would be a slap in the face to all those who "have invested a huge amount of time, effort and planning in this area."
"I think we, as a community, would welcome with open arms a home for victims of abuse," Kedron offered as an alternative.
Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Maria Whyte, who represents the neighborhood, said it is precisely the wrong plan for a transitional neighborhood that is trying to attract new businesses and young families.
"My bottom line is that I don't want a sex offender house anywhere, but I for damned sure don't want a sex offender house in a neighborhood that is on the verge of recovery," said Whyte.
Buffalo Police Officer Jose Vega, who also lives in the community, offered doubts that residents' safety could be assured, no matter how well run the sponsors propose to make it.
"Although every police officer I know works hard and is dedicated, there's just no way we can baby-sit [this many] serious sex offenders like this," said Vega.
King, who spoke to reporters after the meeting, was adamant that the site provides a level of isolation from neighborhood residents, but he also acknowledged that it would be hard to ignore the passions of opponents to his plan.
"I think after tonight, everyone will re-examine and continue to do some dialogue about whether this is worth going forward with. Certainly, the community has raised some very viable, valid concerns that we're listening to," said King.
Even though the Common Council has unanimously asked the Zoning Board to turn thumbs down on the plan, King declined to pull back Wednesday.