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DON'T UNDERMINE LINWOOD GET 'HALFWAY HOUSE' OUT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD

BUFFALO's Linwood Avenue needs friends. Stately old homes that require an owner's constant attention and loving care line this Delaware District thoroughfare. Rightly kept up, Linwood is a jewel.

At the same time, Linwood, like Allentown, is home to numerous human service activities that help people in need. But they ought not to be unfairly concentrated in a few urban residential areas. An overload can push a neighborhood into decline.

The best rule: Spread them around.

Into the Linwood neighborhood a year ago came an organization called Prayer & Praise Fellowship, which acquired a two-story former retirement home at 221 Linwood and set about to use it as a church, offices, classrooms and housing for about 40 homeless men.

Prayer & Praise admits to bringing in crack-cocaine addicts from New York City. Some 90 percent of its clients have had drug problems, the agency acknowledges. Of course, it is worthy to help such people. Praise, indeed, for those who try.

But, in this case, Prayer & Praise should have had more concern for the Linwood neighborhood than to set up shop there.

In 1994 Prayer & Praise began the process of seeking city permits and approvals for its activity.

Then, city officials say, the organization abruptly withdrew its applications, apparently out of concern they would ultimately be denied. On March 15, 1994, the City Planning Board had heard strong neighborhood objections and recommended against Prayer & Praise because the Linwood neighborhood is "saturated with similar human service uses."

City officials say Prayer & Praise needs to get a Zoning Board of Appeals variance because its rooming-house use is not permitted at its location. It needs Common Council approval of its use as a halfway house. And it needs to comply with the building code.

This week the city sent Prayer & Praise a notice that it was illegally occupying the building for lack of a certificate of occupancy and a use permit. Cease operations, the city ordered.

Apparently action will continue in court. Prayer & Praise contends it is a church and can, therefore, locate anywhere it wants in Buffalo. But opponents say it is more than just a church. It should be required to have permits for its other uses.

The wrangling could go on for many months. Instead of fighting the process, Prayer & Praise ought to respect the objections of its residential neighbors, recognize its mistake, pack its bags and find some other location for its work. Linwood is the wrong place.

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