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Buffalo Common Council sued for ignoring advice to grant historic designations

The Buffalo Common Council last month ignored the Buffalo Preservation Board’s recommendation to grant historic protections for three properties threatened with demolition.

Now a preservation group has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging that decision. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture says the Council failed to offer valid reasons for rejecting the historic designations, as required in the City Code.

The properties are the 1886 Bachelor Apartment Building at 331 Franklin St., designed by Green & Wicks, Buffalo’s most accomplished architectural firm; the North Park Library, built by City Architect Howard Beck at 975 Hertel Ave.; and the Pratt Street Industrial Heritage Area, at Pratt and William streets, built from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

Each met six of nine criteria for historic status when only one was required.

“In not addressing the merits of the Preservation Board’s decision, the Council is acting arbitrarily, and in a way that is harmful not only to the properties involved, but in a way that erodes public confidence in the Council’s ability to safeguard the city’s cultural resources,” said Tim Tielman, the Campaign for Greater Buffalo’s executive director and one of four members of the group on the 10-member Preservation Board.

“There is no credible protection for a city’s historic resources if a council or an administration can take such arbitrary action. It utterly undermines the landmarks law and the Preservation Board.”

The Preservation Board – a group of volunteers with expertise in certain areas specified by the City Code – makes nonbinding recommendations to the Council on historic designation. The board found all three properties met six of the criteria needed for local landmark status.

Tielman said in the lawsuit that the Preservation Board was charged with providing objective decisions “removed from politics or whimsy” and that ignoring those decisions without an explanation undermined public confidence.

Also named in the lawsuit are the Ellicott Development Co., which would build a parking ramp where the Bachelor now stands to support a $70 million, 12-story hotel and apartment development, and the Crosby Company, which has considered tearing down unused portions of its Pratt Street industrial complex but is also considering alternatives.

The case was assigned to be heard by Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto on July 21.