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'McMansion' comes tumbling down Neighbors celebrate end of yearlong struggle

A judge called it an intrusive "McMansion" that would overwhelm the smaller, relatively modest homes on Rumsey Lane, a countrified cul-de-sac on the edge of Delaware Park.

By noon Saturday, people who live in those ranch-style homes off Rumsey Road, between Delaware Avenue and Lincoln Parkway, were talking about the partially built, 2 1/2 -story structure in the past tense.

It took just a few hours for a power shovel to crush the wooden frame of what was to have become a 4,500-square foot home, and then dig up the foundation, bringing to a clangorous, dusty climax a year-long struggle by several residents to keep the unwelcome structure from going up.

It was an expensive victory for the next-door neighbors. They paid $650,000 for the 70-foot-wide, 94-foot-deep lot that the previous owner purchased 14 months ago for $237,500.

"I'll be working for the rest of my life, and then I'll leave here feet first," Robert B. Skerker, the neighbor who bought the property, joked after the dust settled. "But we felt the integrity of the neighborhood was worth saving."

The crater left at 25 Rumsey Lane will be filled and kept as a lawn and garden, said Skerker, a businessman and former chairman of the Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board. He and his wife, Sara, bought the property from Sue Ann Simonin, who abandoned the controversial project after State Supreme Court Justice Timothy J. Drury ordered construction stopped.

Saturday's tear-down cost the Skerkers an additional $12,000. Legal costs, shared with two neighbors, will push the tab even higher.

One thing the couple won't do is build on their new side yard.

"We have no plan to do anything like that," he said.

Skerker said the battle with Simonin, who could not be reached to comment for this story, could have been averted once neighbors learned in late 2007 that her house would tower over their single-story homes, built in the 1950s on two acres once occupied by a Victorian mansion and stables.

"I tried to persuade her to build a smaller house with a smaller footprint, and offered to hire an architect to help her," he said.

Skerker said he then offered to buy the plot outright, warning that he would sue if Simonin went ahead with construction. Her original purchase included a small Cape Cod home on the plot that she later demolished.

But Simonin ignored the entreaties. As the foundation for her new house was being poured Jan. 1, the Skerkers' lawyer, Arthur J. Giacalone, was in court asking Drury to nullify the city Planning Board's approval of Simonin's design and site plan.

Drury had already directed the board to reconsider, ruling that it had exceeded its authority and acted "without understanding the scope" of that authority. When the Planning Board approved the site for a second time April 8, Giacalone again asked the court to intervene.

In his May 28 decision halting the project, Drury said the board failed to consider the impact of the proposed residence on surrounding properties, as required by the Citywide Design and Site Plan.

Simonin's house would be "a huge structure for the small lot it sits on," the judge wrote.

"It was shoehorned into the lot and, furthermore, it overwhelms the other houses on the lane and looms over the lane. It is a McMansion, which is totally out of place in a court of subdued, understated ranches."

Moreover, Drury said, its "quasi-gothic" style and "grey stone veneer" would clash with "the modern, one-story clapboard and brick ranches it will abut and face."

He scolded the Planning Board for approving Simonin's plan "without regard to the facts, and therefore in an arbitrary and capricious manner."

Neighbors who gathered to watch the demolition, coffee cups and cameras in hand, agreed that the battle could have been avoided.

"What a waste of time, energy and resources," said Maura Cohen, whose view of the morning sun from the backyard of her Cape Cod-style home on Windsor Court had been blocked by the hulking structure.

"All that's left is a bunch of toothpicks."

Windows, plywood sheets and other salvageable materials had been removed earlier in the week by Buffalo ReUse, a nonprofit organization working to revive run-down city neighborhoods. If there was a bright side to the destruction, said a Rumsey Lane resident who requested anonymity, it was this: "The value of my house just went up -- a lot."

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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