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Council must reconsider landmark status for North Park Library, Crosby buildings

The former North Park Library and the Crosby complex buildings, which city lawmakers last year ruled don't deserve historic landmark status, will get reconsideration now that a State Supreme Court judge ruled the Common Council's first review was flawed.

This time, regardless of whether supporting or rejecting landmark status, the Council must offer a written explanation to back up its decision, the city law department told lawmakers Monday.

In addition, the Council must give "due consideration and deference" to the city Preservation Board's recommendations, according to the law department.

The corporation council's comments came in response to a recent decision by State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, who ruled the Common Council must reconsider the city Preservation Board's request that the buildings be granted local historic landmark status. Such a designation would make it difficult for the buildings to be demolished.

The city Preservation Board unanimously voted last February to support granting historic landmark status to the library, located at Delaware and Hertel avenues, and the Crosby buildings on William and Pratt streets. The board also voted to support historic landmark status for the Bachelor Apartments building on Franklin Street.

The recommendations went to the Common Council which, after public hearings, voted 7-2 in May against granting landmark status to the Crosby and library buildings. It voted 7-2 to "receive and file" the recommendation for the Bachelor building, which was tantamount to rejecting the proposal since it had the effect of not approving landmark status without taking a formal position on the issue.

The Council did not provide a written opinion, but Council President Darius G. Pridgen voiced concern then, as he did Monday, with the Preservation Board not taking into consideration neighborhood opinions.

"I don't want to be in a battle with the Preservation Board on their expertise, but in the Ellicott District, I am concerned about what the people want," said Pridgen, who is the Ellicott District councilman. The Bachelor and Crosby buildings are in the Ellicott district.

"I understand the Preservation Board doesn't have to poll the neighborhood, but I am elected by the neighborhood," Pridgen said.

Pridgen also repeated he's unhappy with the city's current process, where buildings don't come up for landmark status until they are threatened with demolition as part of an economic development project.

The Common Council rulings on the library, Bachelor and Crosby buildings were appealed in state Supreme Court by the Campaign for Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, headed by Tim Tielman, who is a member of the city Preservation Board.

Richard J. Lippes, an attorney for Tielman's organization, said he requested an injunction barring any of the buildings from being demolished while the appeal was being heard.

The judge ruled she had jurisdiction over the library and Crosby building cases because the Common Council voted on those applications.  But, the judge ruled, she doesn't have jurisdiction to get involved in the Bachelor building case because the lawmakers received and filed the landmarking request without voting for or against it, attorneys said.

Injunctions were issued preventing demolition of the library and Crosby buildings while the case was appealed, but not the Bachelor building, according to Lippes.

The owners of the Bachelor building, Ellicott Development, owned by Carl Paladino, had the 130-year-old Bachelor building demolished in October. The four-story apartment building at 329 Franklin St. is being replaced with a six-story office, hotel and apartment tower on top of a six-story parking ramp.

Tielman said he's pleased with the judge's ruling on the Crosby and library buildings, but is concerned the ruling on the Bachelor building could set a bad precedent – encouraging "receive and file" as a way reject a proposal, and then protect it from a court appeal. Even though the building is already demolished, the ruling will be appealed, he said.

Pridgen said he was surprised the judge felt she didn't have jurisdiction to rule on the Bachelor building.

Pridgen said he did not recall why that application was handled as a "receive and file," rather than being subject to an "approve or deny" vote. But, he said, it was not at the developer's request, and it was not meant to be an end run around the court process.

"No way," he said, adding, "I am grateful to have a system where people can take issues to court."

The Council Tuesday is expected to refer the requests to landmark the Crosby and library buildings to its Legislation committee, which will schedule new public hearings on the application. Another vote will be taken sometime after the public hearings are held.

The former North Park Library, 2361 Delaware Ave., built in 1926,  has been closed since 2008. City officials have said they would welcome any plans to allow the building to be reused, but have not received any proposals.

The Crosby Co. complex, 412 William St., at Pratt Street, was initially slated for demolition, but the building owners subsequently changed their minds, and have said they want to instead repair the deteriorating buildings. Nonetheless, Tielman has said, the Preservation Board would like to see the buildings given landmark status to ensure they are not demolished.

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