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Buffalo Planning Board tables plan to demolish A.D. Price Courts

The Buffalo Planning Board on Tuesday postponed action on the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's proposed project to redevelop its A.D. Price Courts housing project, citing hesitancy over a pending state report about the historic merits of the existing buildings that would be demolished.

BMHA, together with affiliate Bridges Development Inc. and partner Norstar Development USA, want to spend $20.3 million to remake and modernize the historic public housing complex on the Lower East Side to meet current needs.

It has proposed knocking down nine aging and outmoded structures and redeveloping a large administration building, replacing 170 vacant smaller apartment units with 52 units on two parcels on Spring Street and Jefferson Avenue. Existing bas-relief sculptures and artwork would be retained and incorporated into the new buildings or a public park.

But historic preservation advocates and other opponents say that would destroy 78 years of history tied to the black community's relationship to the rest of the city. They say the buildings could be renovated to be useful. And they claimed that the project should be considered under the Green Code, an argument the Planning Board and its attorney rejected.

"It would be a real crime to our understanding of where we’ve come from and where we’re going to see this beautiful art destroyed," said Jessie Fisher, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

[GALLERY: Inside Buffalo's vacant A.D. Price Courts housing complex]

BMHA officials said they submitted an application last month to the state Division of Homes and Community Renewal seeking Housing Trust Fund money and low-income housing tax credits. They expect to hear an answer by May, but said they wanted to have municipal approvals in place to demonstrate their readiness to proceed.

In the meantime, though, they are also awaiting a final report from the State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, regarding the buildings and alternative options. Rather than act and provide a conditional approval, the Planning Board opted to table the proposal until the report comes back, which could be 45 days.

"I’m struggling mightily with this. I would like to see what SHPO has to say," said board member Cynthia Schwartz. "I’m not comfortable acting before we hear from SHPO."

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