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BMHA agrees to sell Kensington Heights property to ECMC

Kensington Heights, the long-dormant Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority property seen from Route 33, might be sold to the Erie County Medical Center.

The BMHA board of commissioners agreed Tuesday to sell the 16.8-acre site to the county hospital for $1.45 million, which authority officials said is the appraised fair-market value of the property.

Under the terms of the sale, ECMC will conduct an environmental review of that property to be completed within the next 150 days.

The hospital can back out of the deal if, based on the results of the environmental review, ECMC decides it no longer wants the property, BMHA officials said.

The property is the site of a former housing development filled with asbestos. BMHA officials Tuesday said they believe all the asbestos has been cleaned up. Prior to housing Kensington Heights, the land had been used as a quarry, officials said.

Hospital officials were not immediately available for comment Tuesday, but BMHA officials said the hospital initially wants to use a portion of the Kensington Heights property for overflow parking needed because of construction work currently ongoing at the hospital. ECMC is getting a new $45 million emergency unit.

In fact, if the hospital decides after environmental studies are done that it does not want to go through with the sale, it would lease a portion of the property for parking from the BMHA through December 2019 for $6,750 a month, BMHA officials said.

If ECMC does go forward with the sale, BMHA officials indicated the hospital's long-term plan could include a housing component. If that occurs, the BMHA could partner with ECMC, BMHA officials said.

"We think this is a good deal for the BMHA in terms of being able to achieve market value for the property as well as being part of the exciting future for that neighborhood," said BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett. "Redevelopment of this property is key."

Kensington Heights’ era of futility at crossroads

The Kensington Heights public housing development was built in 1958, but shut down in 1980 when it was viewed as an outdated model that warehoused the poor.

The BMHA had long talked of plans to demolish the buildings and replace the development with modern senior housing.

The authority spent some $11 million – much of it state funds – on demolition and cleanup at the site. Five of the six towers have been knocked down.

Sanders-Garrett said Tuesday the authority was unable to find a developer interested in working with the BMHA on the project.

The one remaining tower on the site is asbestos-free, and it will be demolished by ECMC as part of the $1.45 million deal, officials said. The agreement assumes demolition will cost about $250,000.

Initially, the authority expected the six towers to be torn down by the end of 2010.

The ill-fated demolition project, however, was delayed by a scandal involving unsafe asbestos-removal procedures. That led to a federal investigation and criminal convictions of nine businesses, businessmen and public safety inspectors. Charges against two other firms were dismissed after the companies shut down.

Disputes between the Housing Authority and contractors also led to two lawsuits.

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