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Judge delays razing of houses near Peace Bridge

A preservation group obtained a temporary restraining order Tuesday, preventing the Peace Bridge Authority from demolishing several boarded-up homes it owns across the street from its West Side plaza.

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture sought the order from State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Glownia.

"It was a close call," said Campaign director Tim Tielman. "We learned they were ready to demolish everything tomorrow. That would have been a great loss. We're fortunate we were able to get in court in time and be heard today."

The Bridge Authority spokesman said the authority wants to demolish the row of houses in order to rid the neighborhood of blight and also to accommodate future plaza renovations.

The authority would tear down the houses even if does not expand its plaza, said Matthew N. Davison, a spokesman for the Bridge Authority, formally known as the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.

The two sides return to court July 6.

The preservation group views the homes as historically significant and has called for public input and a proper environmental impact study.

"We're correct on the merits," said Richard G. Berger, a lawyer for the preservation organization. "They can't demolish these homes without doing a proper environmental impact study because they're historic homes."

The Bridge Authority wants to tear down the Busti Avenue homes, the group said, to make way for an expanded plaza, including a new Duty Free store.

"The proposal to expand the Peace Bridge plaza by destroying all the houses on Busti Avenue between Vermont and Rhode Island streets would have a serious and irreversible consequences," Paul McDonnell Jr., the group's president, said in court papers.

"The proposed demolition and the proposed new construction of a building, roadways and parking lots are inappropriate for the historic context in which they would be placed," McDonnell added. "The demolition would harm the landscape and architecture and the public appreciation of them."

The authority wants to demolish eight houses that it owns on Busti.

"The authority remains confident in our approach to removing several long-vacant and dilapidated structures located on Busti Avenue, having undertaken extensive voluntary compliance procedures related to environmental review and important demolition and safety protocols," the authority said in a statement.

"As was determined at this morning's court proceedings, we will continue to complete necessary sewer line work and asbestos remediation within the various buildings in order to prepare them for demolition, and look forward to a positive future ruling allowing us to proceed."

The authority has previously said an engineering report concluded two of the structures that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are structurally unsound and should be demolished.

Many of the 300-plus members of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture live in or near the neighborhood, Tielman said.

But other homeowners in the West Side neighborhood favor tearing down the houses.

Seventh Street resident Barbara L. Battista has called for the "deteriorated and rat-infested homes" to be demolished as soon as possible.

email: plakamp@buffnews.com