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Allentown neighbors: No more bars, please

A group of residents and business owners in Allentown have an idea for curbing late-night raucous behavior in the neighborhood: No new bars. And when one closes, don't allow another to take its place.

Their concerns over large crowds, fights and unruly behavior on late weekend nights were heightened this month after a 37-year-old man was fatally shot outside a bar during an early-morning fight on Allen Street.

Members of the Allentown Association this week met with city leaders to urge them not to approve new permits for bars in the Allentown district.

The meeting came a day after the chairman of the State Liquor Authority visited Buffalo to meet with Allentown bar owners and Buffalo Police to talk about the growing concerns and highlight responsible bar owners.

Vincent G. Bradley, chairman of the State Liquor Authority, said the state agency has been focused on the Allentown district as the number of liquor licenses has increased in the last few years.

"It's new businesses opening, which is great for the City of Buffalo," Bradley said. "But that has to be balanced with safety and noise and what's safe for residents."

Residents and business owners have raised concerns over an increasingly rowdy bar scene on Allentown that has spurred fights and other incidents. That has coincided with eight new bars and restaurants that have opened in new locations or replaced older bars near Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue in the last four years.

Jonathan White, vice president of the Allentown Association, said Thursday's meeting at the association's office included Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, Common Council President Darius Pridgen, Common Council Member David Franczyk and others. The residents detailed concerns that the proliferation of bars has created a negative impact on the quality of life for residents.

"There are too many liquor licensed establishments for the neighborhood to support as it is. Because we're at this saturation point, we simply cannot sustain the addition of any new licenses," White said. "We would like to see reduction by attrition. If a business does not want to continue or closes, we do not want that replaced with a new license holder."

New bars require a special use permit from the city, as well as a liquor license from the state.

White said members of his organization have also met with Mayor Byron Brown. He said city leaders "have committed to work with the neighborhood to explore mitigation strategies to improve conditions."

"What those are, we don't yet know," White said.

The increased numbers of bar goers on weekend nights has concerned not only residents, but also some nearby organizations and businesses.

First Presbyterian Church on Symphony Circle has spent more than $3,000 to hire a private security detail for its parking lot on Friday and Saturday nights since Aug. 11. Interim Pastor Elena Delgado said she would arrive on Sunday mornings to find broken beer and liquor bottles, cans of beer, used hypodermic needles and other trash.

"I noticed the trash and then started getting complaints from neighbors about the noise on Fridays and Saturdays and tailgating in our parking lot," Delgado said. "I think I was more shocked that the problem was that severe."

Both Buffalo Police and the State Liquor Authority have previously increased enforcement in the neighborhood, including an increase in police manpower during trouble times and unannounced bar inspections.

No one is asking for increased police presence beyond what already is being provided, White said. Nor are they asking for existing bars to close, he said.

"We're not asking that any business be closed or pressure one to close, but if a business changes ownership, that the new special use permit that would be required, is not issued," White said. "We do not want a new operator to come in. Reduction through attrition."

B District Police Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia said there is a broad collaboration among neighbors, bar owners, the city, Liquor Authority and the nearby Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"Everyone is coming together with a common goal of having a safe environment," Gramaglia said. "The issue that we have is the capacity. It's the hot spot and there's a lot of people coming down, some of whom are patrons and some who are not patronizing. We just need to get the patrons to be respectful and be responsible."

Last year, Gramaglia tried organizing an Allen Street bar association to meet regularly but it didn't materialize. He said he is hopeful one would be formed by next year.

Thirteen bar owners attended the meeting Wednesday with representatives from the State Liquor Authority. Gramaglia, who also attended the meeting, said bar owners were reminded it's their responsibility to police their front patios, to make sure alcohol is not being consumed outside the confines of their patios and that there is tight control over patron lines into their businesses.

Bradley said they also discussed disorderly behavior, the high numbers of people in bars, noise and not serving intoxicated individuals.

Police are continuing their increased weekend presence in the bar district, said Gramaglia, noting that officers are in the neighborhood during entertainment hours, including on feeder streets such as Mariner, College, Park and Irving.

"The one thing the Buffalo Police and my office stressed was that they really should be speaking collaboratively. They're in this together," said Bradley, noting that police recommended bar owners get together in a group and talk about issues. "I think the whole thing was very positive in keeping the lines of communication open."

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