No matter how hard the mayor tries, he can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. The toothpaste in this case is his long-standing acquiescence to the razing of seven empty houses on Busti Avenue near the Peace Bridge. By changing course now, he acts only as an obstructionist, not a leader.
The structures have been targeted for demolition since 2004 – before Byron W. Brown became mayor – to ready the land for an expanded plaza that will ease the backup of traffic waiting to enter the United States. Of course, this being Buffalo, public improvement projects move at a glacial pace, so actual demolition is to begin only later this month, eight years after then-Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and the Peace Bridge Authority signed an agreement to take the houses down.
As we've said before, the Peace Bridge project has become a monument to everything that doesn't get done in Western New York.
Now, with demolition slated within weeks, the mayor has decided to take a stand, and a puzzling one at that. He has written a letter filled with canards to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in an attempt to slow things down – as if they could go any slower. In his missive, Brown calls the demolitions "premature" and laments the "unnecessary public conflict" that will result from razing the buildings. He talks about a "lack of transparency" and calls the Peace Bridge Authority unresponsive to the surrounding neighborhood. With due respect to the mayor, it is a lot of blah, blah, blah.
People even tangentially involved with the project are scratching their heads at his timing. Maybe it can be chalked up to a mayor taking what might be seen as a populist stand in favor of preservation. But here are some other facts to consider: Brown's City Hall in 2009 demanded that the authority address the building violations on the seven properties. The city's unintended message to the Peace Bridge Authority was: Get on with it already.
The Peace Bridge Authority this past February, about to clear all of the environmental hurdles, notified City Hall that it had "begun the process to demolish" the seven houses, and in April sought comments from four City Hall departments. But no response came from City Hall, said the authority's Ron Rienas. Further, the authority offered to give away any of the houses to any group interested in moving it. There have been no takers. Finally, while the Common Council has deemed 771 Busti Ave. historically significant, there has been no city proposal to move or save it.
Brown's letter presumably will ring hollow with Cuomo, who in April signaled that he's committed to expediting the perpetually delayed expansion project for the U.S. plaza. Cuomo seems to understand that an expanded plaza will ease the emissions belched from trucks and autos now backing up at the plaza, and provide for the freer flow of traffic that will facilitate commerce between the two nations and benefit Western New York. Brown's eleventh-hour stand should not deter long-awaited progress on improving the Peace Bridge.