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Purchase of historic former stable at tax auction likely to be rescinded

The former stable on Buffalo's West Side almost became the horse that got away.

To the shock of some city officials, the crumbling barn on Jersey Street was placed on the selling block at Buffalo's foreclosure auction this week.

The 1880s-era White Bros. Livery and Boarding Stable made headlines this summer after a wall collapsed. The city evacuated several nearby families as it took steps to demolish a structure that some laud as an architectural masterpiece.

After a three-week court skirmish, officials announced that prominent developer Sam Savarino bought the 120-year-old structure and planned to turn it into condominiums. They said Savarino made a deal to pay $1 to Robert Freudenheim, who owned the three-story barn.

The city proceeded with a plan to stabilize the building shortly after it had performed some demolition tasks.

When the structure was unceremoniously placed on the auction block, tax officials said they were unaware the listing at 429 Jersey was the widely publicized horse barn. The three-day sale involved a record 2,960 properties.

After The Buffalo News made an inquiry about rumors that the building was placed on the selling block for unpaid taxes, assessment officials confirmed that Charles Campanella, of Buffalo, submitted a high bid of $5,000 for the property.

One day later, the city's top attorney said the sale was a mistake and will be rescinded.

Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz said this summer's change in ownership caused confusion that may have resulted in Savarino's not receiving notice informing him of the need to pay delinquent taxes to avoid foreclosure.

Savarino confirmed Friday that he was unaware the property was on the city's foreclosure list.

"The back taxes were owed by the prior owner," said Savarino, adding that he only learned about the sale when a city employee called him from the auction. Hasn't the city already agreed to sell the property to another buyer?

"It's not uncommon during the course of an auction to have to rescind a number of sales," Lukasiewicz responded. "In fact, information is conveyed to every buyer beforehand that any sale can be rescinded by the city."

Property sales generally are not finalized until November or early December, when bidders arrive with final payments.

Campanella could not be reached to comment on what plans he had for the decaying stable or to react to the city's plan to rescind the sale.

Lukasiewicz said the city could make a compelling case for canceling the sale, given the fact that it previously poured nearly $200,000 into demolition and stabilization. During prior court hearings, Buffalo officials vowed to continue efforts to recover from Freudenheim demolition expenses already incurred by the city.

Savarino said plans are proceeding to convert the structure into a nine-to-11-unit residential complex. Preliminary design documents are being prepared, and developers will meet with neighborhood residents to get their input. The project will need various approvals from the city. Savarino is hopeful that construction will begin next year and will be completed in 2010.


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