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RESIDENTS BLAME WEGMANS CONSTRUCTION FOR DAMAGE TO HOMES

Several residents near the site of the new Wegmans Food Market under construction in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood contend that their behemoth neighbor's arrival has had them shaking in their boots, and now they're rattled.

They said it started last spring, when crews began razing a former 325,000-square-foot manufacturing plant to make way for the new supermarket at 601 Amherst St. The vibrations from that demolition and subsequent construction shook their homes, they said, cracking walls and other damage.

"I was in California when they had an earthquake, and this was worse," said Shirley Darrell of Beaumaris Place. "No house could stand up to what these houses did without damage."

Ms. Darrell and other neighboring property owners insist that the Rochester-based food company is to blame and are seeking compensation for the damage.

The food company has for years operated a string of supermarkets in Buffalo's suburbs and earlier this year began construction on its first store within the city.

The 100,000-square-foot supercenter is going up on a 17-acre, former industrial site about three blocks west of Elmwood Avenue.

Wegmans disputes contentions by residents that the demolition and construction damaged their homes.

Ann McCarthy, spokeswoman for Wegmans, said the company received permission from homeowners who contacted Wegmans to have a structural engineer inspect the homes. It was the engineer's determination that the damage inside the homes resulted from pre-existing causes and was not related to the demolition, she said.

"It was also determined that the techniques and protocols that were used to take down the existing structure were all proper, appropriate and normal tolerances," she added.

Stephen Kolano of Amherst Street is adamant about who is to blame for the cracked walls in his house and the two flues that collapsed in his chimney. A large sign in front of his house reads: "Wegmans Damaged Our Homes."

"I haven't had any hot water since May 16 because the flue fell down," Kolano said. "They (Wegmans officials) say it's my fault because the chimney is old and the flues fell down by themselves."

While other neighbors who had complained of damages accepted $750 from the company, Kolano did not.

"They wanted to settle with me for $1,150, but it's going to cost at least $6,000" to repair the damage, he said.

Pat Garvey of Beaumaris was another who chose not to settle. Instead, he sought relief through his insurance company, which paid him $5,500 for cracks in his walls and ceiling and structural damage to his front porch.

"We've been bullied. They're a large company, and we get lost in their bureaucracies," he said.

Mrs. McCarthy said the $750 payments were not an admission of responsibility, but a gesture to compensate residents for dust and dirt caused by the demolition.

"We wanted to make an extraordinary gesture to our neighbors that said we recognize that we have created dust and dirt," she said. "And, based on the structural engineer's report, if there was any possibility that a pre-existing crack might have been lengthened or widened by our activities, we'd like the neighbors to have the ability to patch and paint."

Neighbors and Mrs. McCarthy said there have been several meetings between the parties in the last few months. The meetings were halted when they became to rancorous, Mrs. McCarthy said.

However, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said he hopes to renew talks between the two sides in the near future.

"I've worked with the residents," Hoyt said. "They are angry, and I can appreciate their anger. I can't say that they're right. I can't say that their claims are just, but I can say this: As long as I'm representing that community, I'm going to do everything I can to at least give them an audience with the people they have a grievance with."

Mrs. McCarthy said Wegmans, too, would be willing to resume a dialogue with the neighbors.

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