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Battle over Fruit Belt parking ends in residents’ favor

A two-year battle over Fruit Belt parking ended Friday, when state lawmakers authorized Buffalo to set up residential permit parking in the East Side neighborhood.

Once the legislation gets an expected signature from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, city officials can begin implementing a program that is expected to set aside half the on-street parking in the neighborhood bordering the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus for Fruit Belt residents only.

The plan is viewed as a pragmatic compromise between residents wanting to reclaim parking on streets near their homes, and the state Civil Service Employees Association, which last year killed a similar plan that didn’t allow for any parking by Medical Campus employees.

“We want to support and encourage the growth of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and respect the wishes of the residents who live in this iconic neighborhood, some having lived here their entire lives,” Mayor Byron W. Brown after the bill got final legislative approval in the Senate Friday.

State lawmakers finishing up their current session in Albany also passed legislation the Brown administration sought allowing the city to effectively take ownership of select properties the city forecloses upon that are headed for the auction block.

The measure – known as the land bank bill – is aimed at preventing negligent landlords and speculators from buying the properties, and allowing the city to instead obtain and use the properties to help revitalize neighborhoods.

“This will be helpful for community development and economic development,” Brown said. “Instead of speculators profiting on city land, the city will be able to drive the community development and economic development process.

The plan allows the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp., a nonprofit land bank of which the city is a member, to use its “super bidding powers” to purchase a property on the auction list before others get to bid.

Since the property would sell for the total of the municipal judgments against it – tax and other related liens – the cost to the city would be minimal, if anything.

The land bank bill was introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo and Republican State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan of Elma.

Brown said the land bank and Fruit Belt parking legislation were among his top priorities, with the Fruit Belt parking his primary focus.

“I made Fruit Belt parking my top legislative priority,” the mayor said.

Fruit Belt residents have been complaining that the expansion of the Medical Campus has made it more difficult for them to find available parking on their neighborhood streets. The increasing Medical Campus workforce has meant more workers parking for free in the Fruit Belt to avoid paying to park in the lots and garages in the area.

Some residents say they can’t find a place to park on their own street when they return from work. Others complain that if they leave their homes during the day to go shopping, they can’t find a parking spot nearby when they return with bags of groceries.

Residents requested the city create a residential parking permit plan for their neighborhood.

But such plans cannot be implemented in New York State without approval from the State Legislature.

Buffalo officials last year asked for state approval. The plan passed the Assembly, but got jammed up in the Senate after the CSEA complained that its members would be hurt by the program.

Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District, at the time said the CSEA would be brought into future talks.

City officials, neighborhood residents, community organizers and union officials met over the past year on the issue. An agreement Pridgen recently helped negotiate would designate half the Fruit Belt parking for residents only, and the other half for anyone – including Medical Campus employees as well as residents.

The CSEA endorsed the plan,

With backing from the CSEA, the Senate Friday passed the plan, which had previously passed the Assembly.

The legislation was introduced by Peoples-Stokes and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo.

“We have a responsibility to restore the quality of life to this historic neighborhood,” Kennedy said.

“With the support of the residents, and with the support of the workers, today we have an accomplishment to celebrate,” Peoples-Stokes said.

City officials previously said that, once approved, it will take 45 days to implement the residential parking system, which will cover an area bordered by East North Street, Michigan Avenue, Rose Street and the Medical Campus.