A proposal from a large Southern Tier scrap metal dealer to open a new location in the northwest part of the city was met by many questions from Common Council members Tuesday.
Ben Weitsman & Son, a scrap metal dealer based in Owego, with 11 locations and annual sales of $650 million, is hoping to take advantage of the Canadian market by purchasing the former Auto City location on the southwest corner of Hertel Avenue and Military Road in the West Hertel neighborhood.
The project has generated controversy in the neighborhood and a public relations war in the Riverside Review, which has published numerous ads from Weitsman and from Niagara Metals, which operates around the corner.
Weitsman has retained lobbyist and former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, while lobbyist and former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello has called North Council Member Joseph Golombek to urge him to oppose the project.
The proposal has generated more than 1,000 phone calls to Golombek's office, he said, and nearly all were negative. The calls appear to be an automated effort, where someone calls a Buffalo resident and asks them leading questions about the project, and then connects the person with Golombek's office.
Project lawyer Laurence K. Rubin told the committee that he lives two miles from the project and that a call came to his home. It's unclear who is behind the calls.
The project will draw 10 or 12 full-size tractor-trailers to the site daily, which will haul metal to the company's "mega shredder" in Owego to prepare the metal for international export.
There will be no shredding on-site, company officials said.
Kim Weitsman, who learned the business from her husband, Adam, and will be the operator of the business if it is approved, answered questions about the project during the Council's Legislation Committee meeting, along with Jim Tofte, an engineer with Delta Engineers.
Margaret A. Szczepaniec, chairwoman of the West Hertel Association, was one of two people who came to the meeting to discuss her concerns about the project.
Szczepaniec said she isn't opposed to the business opening but added that the intersection at Hertel and Military can get congested and that truck traffic shouldn't be limited to entering and exiting the business on Hertel.
The Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbors Planning Alliance has taken the opposite view and has said that traffic should use Hertel because of a nearby school.
Tofte said the company is open to establishing whatever entrance the community wants.
Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, sounding skeptical that the Weitsmans will invest $7 million in the property, asked if the scrap metal business is that lucrative. "We are very fortunate in this business, yes," Kim Weitsman said.
Council members also asked about whether crime would rise in the area, as thieves look for metal to sell, and about environmental concerns.
Kim Weitsman said the company's Rochester location works closely with the Police Department and that it tries to stay ahead of environmental regulations, putting practices in place before they are mandated.
Arthur J. Robinson, a member of the city's Environmental Management Commission, suggested that project planners bring their proposal to the commission for review.
The Planning Board voted Tuesday morning to accept a designation as lead agency for environmental reviews, but won't address the site plan until Dec. 18. Golombek said he doesn't expect the Council to vote on the issue before Dec. 26.