A land swap meant to defuse an East Lovejoy neighborhood controversy over plans for a home for the mentally handicapped hit stormy waters at a meeting of the Common Council Finance Committee today.
Committee members took turns questioning and attacking the deal put together by Lovejoy Council Member Norman M. Bakos. In the end, Bakos stormed out of the Council Chambers.
At issue is Bakos' plan to swap city-owned land at 1800 Genesee St. near Bailey Avenue for a site at William and Greene streets owned by DePaul Mental Health Services Inc. of Rochester. DePaul's plan to use the William-Greene site for a seven-bedroom, two-story supervised home for mentally handicapped persons has stirred strong neighborhood objections. If the swap goes through, DePaul would build at 1800 Genesee instead.
Bakos said he has a concurrent commitment from Mayor Griffin that the Bailey-Genesee area would be targeted for City Hall revitalization steps, but insisted the improvements were not contingent on the land swap going through.
Bakos, who is not a committee member, asked that the land transaction be reported without recommendation to the full Council for its meeting next Tuesday, the DePaul deadline for action.
But the committee followed, instead, the wishes of Council President George K. Arthur and tabled the swap for two weeks. Bakos, in turn, told The Buffalo News he will force the issue next Tuesday by a resolution taking it out of the committee's hands and approving it. He would need a two-thirds majority of nine votes to succeed.
Committee Chairman David A. Collins attacked the swap as an "insult to the community" around 1800 Genesee, which, he said, has been "at the tail end" of city services.
He called the promise of revitalization services "a real buyout" of a largely black neighborhood so it would accept a facility rejected by the white William-Greene area.
The services "should be done without any deal . . . They should be done automatically. Why should they have to make a deal?" added Delaware Council Member Alfred T. Coppola.
Christopher Burns, DePaul's Erie County director, said the company has a firm deadline of next Tuesday for a decision. DePaul, he said, has full power to build at the William-Greene site if the deal falls through.
In direct fashion, Bakos asked: "Can we have an extra two weeks or are you going to William and Greene?"
"We can't go beyond (next Tuesday)," Burns said. "I had to work very hard to get it extended that far."
Arthur said he would not be rushed, however. "That's a lot of malarkey," Arthur said. "We don't have to do it right now."
The swap was supported by the one neighborhood resident present, Raymond Moss, 160 Wende St., president of a block club. "We've talked to the whole community. We passed out slingers and held meetings," Moss said.
Another community session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Bailey-Doat Boys Club where, Moss said, there will be discussion of a free house paint program, city housing rehabilitation loans and the DePaul project.
At the end, Bakos was shouting at committee members.
"You're screaming won't change a thing," returned Collins. He was right. The tabling followed immediately.
Moss' explanation for it all was brief. "George Arthur has a personal thing about anything that Bakos does," he said.