In a town where political figures come in -- often justifiably -- for their share of criticism, Hickory Woods residents today owe two city leaders a "thank you." Common Council President James W. Pitts forcefully took the lead in demanding justice for those caught up in the Hickory Woods travesty, and Mayor Anthony M. Masiello acted responsibly in following up with a promise to make the residents whole.
The South Buffalo residents have been virtually trapped in city-developed homes built atop industrial land. Homeowners and their children have been plagued with unexplained illnesses. As a result, home values have plummeted and those who want to move have found it impossible to sell their houses.
Hickory Woods homeowners have long demanded that the city relocate them, a request which City Hall -- up to now -- had not acted upon. Pitts then devised a buyout proposal using the city's urban renewal powers, which gave homeowners a glimmer of hope.
Masiello showed his concern for the people he represents by making a commitment to help the Hickory Woods residents recoup the equity in their homes, help them with their health problems and deal with a myriad of other concerns. City Hall will look at land values and appraisal systems and put together a dialogue in the next few weeks to find the resources to fund this effort. The details are yet to come, but we take Masiello at his word that the resources will be there.
There's plenty of blame to go around here. City Hall should have long ago admitted its mistake in building anywhere near the site, despite numerous red flags. And while Pitts said he always had concern about the project, some longtime observers at City Hall dispute how vigorously he was opposed to the development at its inception. But that's in the past. What's important is that both men have done the right thing now.
That said, it's unfortunate that Pitts' lack of self-restraint again marred an otherwise admirable example of leadership. Following his proposal to aid Hickory Woods residents, Pitts threatened to call the police on Vincent J. LoVallo, the mayor's chief of staff, who had bypassed procedure to launch into a debate with Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III about the city's minority hiring.
While Pitts may have felt justified in his actions, we wish he would not so easily give in to his penchant for unnecessary conflict. The matter could have been better handled.
Still, that doesn't negate the good work Pitts has done for Hickory Woods homeowners. He stepped up passionately and early. Now it's up to the mayor and the Common Council to work together in bringing about a cohesive solution.