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Preservation Board delays request to demolish Allentown building

A rapidly deteriorating Allentown building just a few steps from the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is in such bad shape that its owner says it needs to be torn down despite previous interest in restoring it.

But the Buffalo Preservation Board wasn't so quick to approve a demolition request for the two-story, red-brick commercial building owned by May Wong. The building is often referred to as the "Mayflower building" because of the company, Mayflower Allen Property LLC, that controls the property at 15 Allen St.

The board has tabled Wong's request, largely out of concern over the negative impact that could result in the historic district's streetscape. The storefront building also is identified as a contributing resource to the Allentown historic district.

Local engineer John Schenne, who inspected the building, told the board last week it is in "very bad condition" with a collapsed floor.

"It would need very extensive repairs to save the structure," Schenne said.

The Allentown Association is paying close attention to what happens to the vacant building. Wong's architect, Adam Sokol, says it is no longer feasible to go ahead with initial renovation plans, particularly since attempts to obtain tax credits have been unsuccessful.

The owner has applied for full demolition of the structure, citing financial hardship and stating that the building is a health hazard and contaminated with mold. The interior of the building is collapsing and the best that could be hoped for is to save the masonry, said Sokol, whose architecture firm is located next door.

It was not an easy sell to some board members.

"Your client bought this with her eyes open," said Timothy Tielman, a board member. "No stabilization or investment has been done to the building. The thing has been sitting there for five years, getting worse. What we're concerned about is this is in an historic district and a contributing structure."

Board Chairman Paul McDonnell questioned the justification for claiming financial hardship. "What is the financial hardship?" McDonnell asked Wednesday. "We're still sort of grappling with that."

But Sokol said the building's owner did "due diligence" in researching options to renovate the building, having spent $93,000 pursuing potential historic tax credits that have not materialized. The original plan was to gut the inside of the building and add a third story for residential living. "I think she bought this building with the best of intentions," Sokol said.

Board member Richard Lippes questioned the justification for demolition. "We need to consider whether the building is structurally sound," he said. "You don't reward someone with demolition by neglect ... To shift the burden is ridiculous. The ability to get tax credits is a privilege, not a right."

Other board members seemed inclined to think the building should come down.

Tielman was hesitant because of the void it would leave on the street. "The streets of Allentown and Linwood Avenue and Hamlin Park are lined by buildings with loving homeowners," he said. "Those are also things we have to consider."

Others asked whether the front of the building could be saved or just a few walls to salvage some aspects of the structure to incorporate into a new one. In the end, the board tabled action until it meets March 23.

"This is really new territory for us,"  McDonnell said. "I want to make sure we're making the right decision here."

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