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Another Voice: Lawsuit over Maritime expansion is justified

By Arthur J. Giacalone

The Western New YOrk Maritime Charter School’s success rate is admirable. No one opposes its middle school in former School No. 70 at 102 Buffum St.

But one cannot reasonably deny the stark difference between living in a quiet residential neighborhood near an elementary school and dealing with the traffic, noise and loss of privacy created by the presence nearby of a middle school, high school and large athletic facility.

There are cogent reasons the charter school's expansion proposal is being challenged:

First, the Green Code recognizes that institutional uses, such as a school, "have increased potential for incompatibility" in a residential neighborhood. To protect nearby residents, the Common Council is obligated to "carefully review" the proposed use "to determine, against fixed standards" whether a special use permit should be granted.

The Common Council shirked its responsibilities. A special use permit was granted for the expansion project without meaningful consideration of the impact on the surrounding residents of tripling the size of the school facilities, and bringing 525 students and faculty and well over 120 vehicles daily to this peaceful neighborhood.

Second, Maritime unlawfully operated its middle school on Buffum Street for a year without obtaining the required special use permit. Then, rather than post a sign notifying the neighborhood of public hearings in May and June so the notice would be "clearly visible" and "within 10 feet" of Buffum Street — as called for by the Green Code — they stuck it in a classroom window.

Also, as The Buffalo News reported on June 8, school officials "didn’t call for an ambulance or police when a 13-year-old middle school student was stabbed in class by another student."

Third, the state has designated 102 Buffum St. as an “"archaeologically sensitive" site. It is 200 feet from the Seneca Indian Park (where Red Jacket and Mary Jemison were once buried), and the surrounding streets were part of the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation. To date, the city has ignored requests from both the state and the local chapter of the state Archeological Association to require an archeological field survey prior to any construction.

Fourth, there is a history of flooding to the rear of the existing school, and drainage issues will be exacerbated if two additional buildings are constructed, and a grassy lawn is replaced by a large parking lot.

Lastly, the existing two-story brick building was neither an eyesore nor dilapidated when the Maritime school purchased it in 2017 for more than $1 million.

The lawsuit will continue.

Arthur J. Giacalone is an attorney representing opponents of an expansion of Maritime Charter School.

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