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Group sues to block demolition of house on Medical Campus

A Buffalo preservation group wants a judge to block the demolition of a house on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that its members believe was designed by E.B. Green.

The Campaign For Buffalo, History, Architecture & Culture got a temporary restraining order in state Supreme Court late Friday after the city issued a demolition permit for the brick house at 980 Ellicott St.

The group sued the City of Buffalo and a limited liability company that for now owns the brick house in an attempt to save the property from demolition.

"It's an important historic structure and one that deserves preservation," said attorney Richard G. Berger, who represents the preservation group.

The lawsuit, which will be heard Thursday by state Supreme Court Justice Diane Devlin, also alleges the demolition application was incomplete and that city officials illegally issued the demolition permit.

"As far as we know, the building is extremely sound and in good shape, and there is no need for an emergency demolition," Berger said. "It's a question of their business plan."

The house is part of a larger property on Ellicott Street that was owned by Osmose Holdings and was sold to a limited liability company connected to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. late last year. The non-profit organization is exploring options for the complex and has sought to demolish some of the buildings on the property.

The city Preservation Board last month gave the green light to tear down about 85 percent of the Osmose properties, except for the house designed by Green and Wicks, Green's partner at the time plans for the home were filed in 1903.

The group is also trying to gain landmark status for the house. Demolition contractor Ontario Specialty Contracting has asked to demolish the building due to subsurface contamination.

The Preservation Board has pressed the demolition contractor and BNMC for detailed documentation on environmental contamination that they have indicated is beneath the house, said Preservation Board Chairman Paul McDonnell.

"We're asking them to relent on just a very small portion of the property, and had wanted the city to delay in issuing the permit to let everyone take a step back," said McDonnell, noting that a March visit to the site in question failed to lead to more information. "It was all give from us, and all take from them. I don't think this is a big ask for the BNMC."

Michael DeGeorge, a spokesman for the City of Buffalo, said city officials would not comment on pending litigation. Attorney Marc Romanowski, who represents the limited liability company that owns the property, did not return a call for comment.

"It is not a grand office building downtown or a huge mansion for Buffalo's elite," said Timothy Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Buffalo group and a Preservation Board member. "This is a fairly modest house."

Tielman said it appears the home was converted into offices in the 1980s.

"We are suing because the applicant has never supplied documents to support their contentions that demolition of the house is necessary because of subsurface contamination. We have never even received a complete packet for the demolition application," Tielman said of the Preservation Board's review process. "We think it's a ruse. There appears to be no justification for the demolition of the home."

The residential structure is surrounded by the larger Osmose manufacturing facility, but is not structurally connected to the surrounding facility, according to the petition filed in court.

"Everyone at the Medical Campus wants to control the land," Tielman said. "The irony here is we're seeing the continued displacement of residents and homes in what previously was known as The Hill, the Fruitbelt and now what's known as the Medical Campus."

A history of the property, cited in court papers, described the home as one of several commissions on the East Side for contractors and masons Henry Schaeffer's Sons in what was an old German neighborhood.

Organizers of the Medical Campus have indicated they want to develop a second innovation center at the former Osmose site, but have said they are keeping all options open.

State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak signed the restraining order last Friday in Devlin's absence.

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