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Buffalo kills Ohio Street scrap yard plan

A long-simmering proposal by a Central New York scrap-metal company to buy a languishing Ohio Street scrap yard and start up a metal shredding and recycling operation has finally met an uneventful end after more than a year of inaction by the Common Council amid neighborhood opposition.

It seems the evolution of Ohio Street and the neighborhood along the Buffalo River is moving beyond the heavy industry that has called it home for decades.

Adam and Kim Weitsman, owners of Upstate Shredding LLC-Weitsman Recycling in Owego, had planned to buy the Gerdau Ameristeel facility at 776 Ohio St., sandwiched between the Buffalo River and the Buffalo Ship Canal, and just south of Rigidized Metals Corp. and Silo City.

The 23.5-acre site in the Old First Ward includes four buildings totaling about 8,000 square feet, and is assessed at $495,000. It has been operated as a metals recycling facility for more than 34 years, first under Intermetal U.S. and Advance Metals Recycling, and then under Gerdau’s ownership since at least April 2003. But the site has been mostly inactive for the past few years.

The couple, whose business is the largest privately-owned scrap-metal recycling company in upstate New York, wanted to renovate the property, rehire as many as 30 workers, bring in new equipment and restart the complex, including a car shredder. It would be operated under the banner of a new firm, Nickel City Shredding, that would be owned by Kim Weitsman.

But community groups representing at least two different neighborhoods voiced loud objections, expressing concern about adding significantly more truck traffic and creating both environmental and noise concerns in the midst of efforts at reviving the area along the Buffalo River. What might have fit there a decade ago is no longer appropriate, they argued, citing the surge of redevelopment along Ohio Street that could turn the once-industrial zone into a more vibrant residential, commercial and retail district, with parkland and streetscape improvements.

South District Councilmember Christopher Scanlon, whose district includes the Ohio Street site, agreed with the neighbors, while stressing that it’s the location that’s at issue, not the company or activity. He warned the Weitsmans months ago that “if we proceeded, I’d be inclined to vote against it.” He said he offered to help them find alternative sites in the city, but has had no conversations with them for months.

“We are kind of at a stalemate,” he said. “Just with everything going on, I just didn’t think it was the highest and best use for that area right now. It just didn’t sit well with me.”

Without fanfare or comment, the Council this week unanimously agreed to file the application without acting on it, effectively killing it.

This is the latest defeat for the Weitsmans, whose third-generation company operates more than 15 scrap yards, port facilities and other operations across upstate New York and Pennsylvania. They’ve been trying unsuccessfully to enter the Buffalo market for the past few years, but have been repeatedly stymied by neighborhood groups and competitors. Its nearest facility is in Brant.

The Weitsmans have asserted that they offered various concessions to beautify the property and provide water access, while noting that they would create jobs in the area without asking for incentives or zoning changes. And they insisted that the opposition is actually driven by their competition. They also noted that the company just spent $25 million to open a mirror-image facility in New Castle, Pa., but have lost about $1.6 million in legal, architectural and engineering fees on the Buffalo effort.

“We give up. We know we’re not wanted there,” Adam Weitsman said. “Buffalo doesn’t want new business there.”