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Everybody's Column

Razing vacant houses isn't the best solution

Mayor Byron Brown should be applauded for his bold efforts in tackling the city's vacant housing. However, the vacancy problem cannot be addressed through demolition. This just creates a new kind of vacancy -- vacant land. What is the long-term value to the city of shifting the problem from blighted buildings to bare earth?

Buffalo has a declining and graying population. Does the city have data to support the idea that these new "shovel-ready" sites will be graced by shovel anytime in the next decade? The problem of vacancy is a symptom of larger problems. I am concerned that the proposed large-scale demolitions -- 5,000 houses in five years -- is a short-term fix that will have long-term consequences.

The solutions are not easy, and the mayor is right to take bold moves, however, the demolition of a significant percentage of the housing stock is a step in the wrong direction. A bold step in the right direction would be to try to preserve vacant housing stock by aggressively recruiting new residents.

Vacant housing can been seen as blight, or as a potential asset. The asset-oriented view means that short-term fixes -- auctions and demolitions -- would give way to a coordinated strategy that tries to draw new residents to the city by using one of the assets we have in abundance -- cheap housing.

Seth Spielman

Buffalo

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Third party should handle zoning issues

Zoning regulations are only as good as the planning boards and town boards that carry out the code. Here on Grand Island, we have very strict zoning rules regarding the location and aesthetics of cell towers. Yet we have examples where the Town Board, and the planning committees they appoint, have failed to follow even the minimalist zoning code standards regarding locating cell towers close to homes, height, requiring co-location on other structures, as well as shielding the visual blight of cell towers.

Grand Island's Republican-led Town Board just a few years ago approved the same zoning regulations and related maps that it now regularly deviates from. Moreover, past members of the board have had cell towers installed on their personal property and the town itself is in negotiations to have towers installed on town-owned land.

A third party that is capable of being objective should assist in carrying out the zoning regulations when local government is incestuous and fails to represent the people. One councilman told me: You'll get used to it. My reply to him is: No, I will never get used to it! Being pro-development doesn't mean having no standards and living like a slob. In fact, having high standards retains value. This leads me to conclude that a diversified Town Board is our best defense against mismanaged government.

Michael F. Ziolkowski

Grand Island

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Most want to preserve green space in Amherst

The Open Space Bond on the ballot in Amherst will create a $12 million fund to help protect remaining open space in Amherst. It will be used to purchase conservation easements, development rights and public ownership of lands and could leverage additional private, state and federal funds. It is supported by the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club. A study by Fox and Co. for the Amherst Industrial Development Agency showed that every $1 million invested in the acquisition of open space over a 20-year period would create a savings of $4 million.

As a Planning Board report states, "In addition to the potential savings to the town, open space provides numerous benefits that are not easily quantified, including aesthetic, visual, environmental, flood control and quality of life."

Last week I received an anonymous, expensive color mailing full of false accusations claiming "there is no plan" and "voters across Amherst oppose this." Who are these voters? What individuals would pay big dollars for a mass mailing against open space without identifying themselves? What is their agenda? Think about it.

Marilyn Cantor Feuerstein

East Amherst

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Link judicial pay raises to long-overdue reform

New York State Bar Association President Kathryn Grant Madigan writes in the Oct. 27 News that the Legislature should reconvene in Albany forthwith to give the state's judges a long-overdue raise. Overdue, it is indeed.

But even longer overdue is legislative action on a well-established agenda of urgently needed judicial reform. Heading up that agenda is establishing a judicial selection process that is free of back-room politics and, more importantly, fulfilling the state's obligation to provide effective legal representation to indigent people accused of crimes -- an unmet obligation imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court more than four decades ago.

There has been no meaningful judicial reform in this state in a quarter of a century. My advice to Gov. Eliot Spitzer is to lay down these terms on judicial reform: The judges and legislators will get raises when the people of New York get serious progressive court reform. And Madigan should acknowledge the Bar's obligation to insist on that linkage. Those raises are the only meaningful bargaining chip in this negotiation.

The Bar must remember that its ultimate client is the public, not the judges before whom its members bring their legal proceedings. It's the lawyers' duty to play that bargaining chip in the public's interest.

Terry O'Neill

The Constantine Institute

Albany

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New flood plain map is a win for residents

Rep. Brian Higgins achieved possibly the most significant victory of his career by pressuring FEMA to redraw the Buffalo flood plain map, which will eliminate 90 percent of the current land from this designation. This is a significant victory for the residents and businesses located in South Buffalo and Kaisertown.

Flood plain property owners were required to pay flood insurance to FEMA for protection against a catastrophic flood. A large majority of these property owners would be unable to collect any money unless substantial structural damage occurred. Essential structural work done by the City of Buffalo and Town of West Seneca along Cazenovia Creek has ensured that any potential flooding was limited and/or eliminated.

The economic impact of this ruling will be substantial for these neighborhoods. Previously block grant dollars were prohibited from being spent within the flood plain. However, these dollars can now be spent on neighborhood improvements. This will also free residents for paying additional monies for insurance, and will allow new home buyers to establish residency knowing additional costs no longer will be required.

Jeffrey M. Conrad

Former South District Councilman

Buffalo

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