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BMHA wants to sell former Kensington Heights housing development site

The financially strapped Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority wants to sell its long-vacant Kensington Heights housing development, scrapping its previous plan to finish knocking down the complex and building new housing at the site.

After spending some $10 million – more than three times the initial cost estimate – to demolish five of the six towers, the BMHA is looking for a less costly way to finish the project, and bring in needed revenue at the same time.

Given that, the BMHA board voted Thursday to try selling the 16.8-acre site, located at 1827 Fillmore Ave., and visible from the Kensington Expressway.

“The time has come for the BMHA to write the final chapter on Kensington Heights. We believe the site’s easy access from the 33, recent investment in the surrounding neighborhood, plus the availability of brownfield tax credits, make it an attractive property,” said BMHA Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett.

With one empty tower shell remaining at the site, the BMHA is willing to sell the property with the tower on it, to be demolished by the new owner or, depending on the offer, the BMHA might consider knocking the final tower down, said Michael Seaman, chairman of the authority’s board. Seaman estimated it will cost $280,000 to demolish the tower. The tower is basically a building shell, and it is asbestos-free, BMHA officials said.

The former public housing development was built in 1958 and has been empty since 1980.

Demolition began in 2010, and the BMHA expected the six towers to be down by the end of that year.

But the ill-fated demolition project was delayed by a scandal involving unsafe asbestos-removal procedures. That led to a federal investigation and criminal convictions of nine businesses, businessmen and public safety inspectors. Charges against two other firms were dismissed after the companies shut down.

Five towers were down by 2014. The BMHA remediated the final tower, but did not have funds to demolish it.

The drawn-out process led to increased costs.

Authority officials said the demolition costs exceeded original expectations largely because of how much it costs to properly remove asbestos.

The authority spent the $5 million that it received for the project in 2007 from the state Dormitory Authority and used another $4.8 million in cash reserves.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has declared the entire site, including the remaining tower shell, asbestos-free, BMHA officials said.

The BMHA is open to fair market value offers for the entire parcel or portions of the site, officials said, adding that it also will consider lease offers for temporary uses, such as construction a staging area or surface parking lots.

The site is empty, but the BMHA continues to cover maintenance and insurance costs. If a reasonable temporary use presents itself, we would entertain it to defray our costs,” Sanders-Garrett said.

Prior to announcing plans to sell the site, the BMHA as of last year was talking about clearing the site, then working with a developer to build senior citizen housing, stores or some other project where the towers once stood.