Old, weathered homes and apartments from the late 1800s line Jersey Street between Prospect and Fargo avenues. But a small yellow front-end loader sits in an unexpected clearing in the middle of the block.
Neighborhood residents were upset to learn that D'Youville College had torn down an apartment building there three weeks ago to make room for a dormitory parking lot.
"One by one, they're picking off the properties," said Suzanne Toomey Spinks, a Prospect Avenue resident who lost a fight in 1994 to keep D'Youville from building a parking lot next to her home. "They're like a sniper in a tree."
As an urban campus bordered by residential neighborhoods on Buffalo's West Side, D'Youville has always struggled to find enough parking spots for its commuter students.
Neighbors watched with mixed emotions as the college bought up houses and vacant or derelict properties along Connecticut Street and West Avenue to expand parking for its growing student body.
But the Jersey Street demolition raised loud new protests.
Members of the Fargo Estate Neighborhood Association say the college should have talked with nearby residents before turning a building in the middle of a solid residential block into a parking lot.
In addition, they say the college broke a promise it made in 1994 to never again demolish homes for parking lots south of Porter Avenue.
"We don't want to push them too much," said Andy Goldstein, association president. "But then they make promises they don't keep."
Donald Keller, D'Youville's vice president for operations, said he wasn't interested in any Jersey Street properties. But, he said, the owner of 220 Jersey was an absentee landlord who had called the college, desperate to get the property off his hands so he could move to Florida.
Keller said he tried to refuse the owner, but the man kept calling back and noting that the property stood adjacent to the parking lot of the Marguerite Hall dorm.
"He practically begged me to buy his property," Keller said.
The college eventually agreed, he said, and decided to turn two-thirds of the property into a parking lot. The remaining third, nearest Jersey Street, will be converted into green space.
"If I didn't buy the property, you'd have an abandoned house there," Keller said. "What's better -- an abandoned house or no house?"
Goldstein said if the property remained standing, the chance still existed for it to eventually be bought and rehabilitated. Now there's no chance.
"That's the thing about parking lots," Goldstein said. "They'll never add value back to a neighborhood."
Given that the homes along Jersey between Prospect and Fargo already show signs of blight, he said, demolishing one building on the block for parking is likely to push the remaining properties into further decline and encourage other owners to sell their homes.
Residents say D'Youville has actively enticed neighbors to give up their properties. Keller, however, says while the college has recently approached some property owners north of Porter Avenue, it fields many more unsolicited offers from the area that are often refused.
In regard to the property at 220 Jersey, Keller said that in retrospect, "I'm sorry I even bought it from the guy."
He said he didn't feel he could discuss the offer with the Fargo Estate Neighborhood Association because it would have been a breach of confidentiality.
Association members, however, say that kind of communication makes the difference between a good neighbor and a bad one. They hope to clear the air at a Monday meeting with the college president.
Spinks said that as a result of living next to a D'Youville parking lot, she has had to deal with drunken and unruly students and parking lot thieves.
"People who think D'Youville is a good neighbor, I wonder how close they live to a parking lot or vacant property D'Youville owns," she said.
Other association members are more generous in their assessment of the college. But they worry the institution will continue to quietly buy residential properties around the campus until D'Youville is ringed with lots and no longer part of the community.
College officials say that's not going to happen.
Spokesman John Bray noted the $7 million investment the college made to convert the vacant Holy Angels Elementary School building into a new campus library in 1999, and the $9 million now being poured into a new academic center where the old library once stood.
Even if the college did want to expand its parking, Keller said, it would buy more properties along Connecticut Street and West Avenue, streets that are closer to the college's academic buildings.
He added that many of the residents near West Avenue were grateful the college was buying and tearing down neglected properties on that street. He said he received similar feedback from some residents near Connecticut Street between Fargo and West.
Most properties were in bad shape, except for a huge, well-kept yellow building on Connecticut, one of the few houses the college actively pursued after buying several other properties on the block.
"There's nothing underhanded or sneaky about what we're doing," he said.
Area residents say that would be easier to swallow if they weren't caught so off guard by the Jersey Street demolition.
"They assured us they'd have an open dialogue with us," said Sandy Hertel, who recalled meeting with D'Youville officials less than a year ago at a neighborhood association meeting. "I'd just like to have the opportunity to have some say in what happens to our neighborhood."