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ECMC seeks to demolish last of Kensington Heights buildings

After barely avoiding the wrecking ball several years ago, the last remaining building in the former Kensington Heights low-income housing community may be seeing its final days.

The Erie County Medical Center is preparing to demolish the seven-story building at 1827 Fillmore Ave., after the public hospital acquired the derelict building and surrounding property from the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority in May for $1.45 million.

ECMC wants to redevelop the site, though it doesn't have a firm plan in place yet. The hospital said in May that it would work with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to "prepare the property for future use," and would "clean up the property" based on its discussions with the DEC under the Brownfield Cleanup Program. At that point, the hospital said, it would "engage our neighbors and the community to identify what the desired future development could be for this site."

"Since becoming a public benefit corporation in 2004, ECMC has experienced significant growth on our health campus and with the acquisition of this property, we look forward to returning it to productive use in our community," ECMC said in its May statement.

The 16.8-acre public housing project was built in 1958 on the site of a former quarry, but was closed in 1980 because it was considered outmoded. The BMHA had at one time planned to replace it with modern senior housing, and had spent $11 million from 2009 to 2014 on demolition and environmental cleanup of five of the six seven-story brick towers, which were filled with asbestos.

However, the housing authority was unable to find a development partner to work with it on a new project. And the demolition work was delayed and never completed because of a scandal involving improper asbestos-removal procedures, so the sixth tower still stands.

ECMC now wants to finish taking down that remaining concrete, masonry and brick building. Officials say the structure has already been partially taken apart and cleaned up, with all windows and some brick veneer removed, as well as some mechanical equipment.

"Since 2009, this building has been in a partially demolished condition and open to the elements," wrote Victor O'Brien, a department manager at C&S Engineers, in a letter to Christopher Hawley, a senior planner with the city. C&S has been hired by the hospital to prepare documents for the demolition. "The building represents a hazard to the community in its current condition."

In the letter, O'Brien cited "loose and falling brick veneer," as well as "hazardous materials including mold, animal feces and asbestos." There are also "multiple fall hazards from lack of windows and floor openings," as well as "miscellaneous debris contributing to trip and falls, including sharp objects."

BMHA agrees to sell Kensington Heights property to ECMC

Given that, as well as "its limited potential for re-use as a residential structure" and "the excessive cost for remediation and reuse," O'Brien urged that it "should be demolished as soon as possible."

Separately, Hannah Demolition Inc., on behalf of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, is seeking city permission to knock down a 140-year-old, two-story brick commercial building with a gable roof at 270 William St. Built in 1878 and at one time home to a tailor business, it was most recently used by a dry cleaner called Ruffin Bros. Cleaners, but is now vacant, partially boarded-up and deteriorating in the back. The property is directly adjacent to the church, at 226 Cedar St.

The requests will be reviewed by the Preservation Board at 3 p.m. on Sept. 20.

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