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PARKSIDE DEBATE RAGES AS HOMEOWNER CAMPAIGNS WITH 'NEW ZOO NOW' SIGNS

A new bumper crop of signs is about to sprout on lawns in the Parkside neighborhood, which, as debate rages over the Buffalo Zoo's proposed move to the waterfront, is beginning to resemble an open-air political convention.

All that's missing are flags, balloons and confetti.

This time the message -- "New Zoo Now" -- is from residents who support the plan. A second lawn sign is in the works: "Save the Park, Move the Zoo."

The brainchild of Richard Wolfe, a Parkside Avenue homeowner, the new signs are intended to counter the "Improve, Don't Move" and "Keep the Zoo" signs that popped up after consultants recommended building a $160 million state-of-the art zoo and marine-life park on the Buffalo River near downtown. It would replace the Delaware Park facility, the nation's third-oldest zoo.

Not to be outdone, the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park proposed Friday putting the question to Erie and Niagara counties' voters next fall.

In a letter to legislators, the group sought to extend to the entire metropolitan area its earlier call for a nonbinding citywide referendum, to be conducted as part of the November general election. Buffalo Common Council President James W. Pitts supports the idea and will ask the League of Women Voters to oversee the special vote.

Thomas E. Garlock, zoo executive director, has pointed out that the facility receives most of its public funding and draws the majority of its visitors from the metro area outside the city.

"We heartily concur," said Janice Barber, chairwoman of the Keep the Zoo Committee. "We believe that the burdensome costs of the proposed new zoo and marine-life park and the abandonment of the zoo's historic home in Delaware Park are of deep concern to residents of the Niagara Frontier."

Wolfe, too, advocated keeping the zoo where it is until he listened to the argument for relocating.

"I did a 180-degree turnabout," he said. "A zoo is one of the few new economic resources that can be developed in the city, and it's something we can do for ourselves. We don't have to sit and wait for someone else to invest in (the) waterfront."

Moreover, many zoo animals are living in "deplorable" conditions, and pushing the zoo boundaries further into historic Delaware Park -- as opponents of the move have proposed -- would be unthinkable, Wolfe added.

He also said that expanding the existing site would create unbearable traffic congestion on nearby residential streets.

Wolfe has been one of the few outspoken zoo allies in Parkside, where opinion about the proposed relocation is sharply divided.

A 3-by-3-foot handmade "Move the Zoo" sign he placed on his front yard in reply to all the "Keep the Zoo" signs was knocked over several times, he said.

But Wolfe, a school social worker, expects to receive plenty of help in posting his new signs.

"I think there is a strong voice within the Parkside community that agrees the zoo should move," he said.

Don't be surprised if the signs pop up in other neighborhoods as well, he added.

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