Attempts by preservationists to protect a pre-Civil War house in the city’s Fruit Belt, as well as three other Buffalo buildings – including the former North Park Library – have failed, with city lawmakers deciding not to give the properties historic landmark status.
The Common Council vote does not mean the buildings will be demolished, but opens the path for each building to possibly be knocked down if developers are interested in constructing new buildings on the sites.
“These are tough decisions,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, where three of the properties are located. “I believe there are some buildings in our city that need landmarking status and should be preserved, but everything cannot be landmarked.”
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By a 7-2 vote, the Council earlier this week denied landmark status to:
• The former North Park Library, 2361 Delaware Ave. Benderson Development had proposed demolishing the vacant structure and replacing it with a commercial-retail building. But it’s unclear if the developer is still interested in the project, given that the city recently issued a new request for proposals for the property, opening up new possibilities that could include renovating or demolishing the library building. A Benderson spokesperson did not return a call for comment Thursday. The library building, built in 1926, is viewed as the entranceway to North Buffalo.
• The Bachelor Apartment building, 331 Franklin St., which Ellicott Development wants to tear down to make way for a $70 million planned hotel, apartment and retail complex. Built in 1886 by architects E.B. Green and William Wicks, it is believed to be one of, if not the first, apartment buildings constructed in Buffalo.
• Crosby Co. Complex, 412 William St. at Pratt Street. While initial plans called for demolishing much of the existing structure, co-owner Jason Crosby recently said the company has been working with architects to determine if any of the deteriorating buildings can instead be repaired. The collection of industrial buildings is believed to be one of the first stamping plants in the country.
Pridgen said he visited the Pratt and Bachelor buildings in his district and did not feel they met the standards for landmark status.
Delaware Council Member Joel P. Feroleto, whose district includes the North Park Library building, said failure to give landmark status to the former library building does not mean the Council wants to see it demolished. The council member said he would welcome any plans that would allow the building to be reused, but he noted that the environmental cleanup costs – including asbestos and lead – as well as parking issues have so far apparently discouraged anyone from renovating the building, which has been closed since 2008.
The Council on Tuesday also declined to create a mini-historic district along a section of High Street in the Fruit Belt, which would have included a long-vacant pre-Civil War house at 204 High St.
The city’s Preservation Board sought the district partly to protect the brick house, which was threatened with demolition a few years ago, but also to highlight the historic nature of the larger area.
Pridgen said he opposed creating a historic district as a way to protect the house because all of the property owners in the proposed district did not support being landmarked. In addition to the vacant house, known as the Meidenbauer House, other properties in the proposed district include a church and a grocery store. Pridgen said he is not aware of any current plans to demolish the house, which reverted to city ownership about a decade ago for nonpayment of taxes.
The Council actions were criticized by preservationist Tim Tielman, director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, who is also on the city Preservation Board. The Preservation Board had recommended that the Common Council landmark the properties.
“I’m disappointed in the action by the Common Council, refusing to protect local landmarks,” Tielman said Thursday. “It’s the politics of allowing a developer an easy path to demolishing a building. It’s disturbing.”
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. also supported landmarking the library, Bachelor and Cosby buildings.
“They met a majority of the standards to be historically designated buildings,” Golombek said. “I think the city has to concentrate on its historic buildings.”
“They should have been landmarked,” Franczyk added. “The preservation community made a compelling case for all three structures.”
While defending the Council votes, Pridgen criticized the current process where landmark status is typically proposed only once a building is threatened with demolition.
“What I am seeing – I feel too much of – is the movement to landmark buildings when they come up to be improved and demolished. This is a concern to me,” he said.
Pridgen said he supports an effort by the Brown administration for a citywide historic preservation study.
The city plans to hire a consultant, Brown said, to identify historic buildings in the city.