By Arthur J. Giacalone
It is not surprising that Delaware District Councilman Joel Feroleto did nothing to stop the demolition of two West Delavan Avenue residences in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village.
The two structures, torn down on Monday, were part of the Elmwood Historic District (East), which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. That noteworthy designation meant much less to Feroleto than the fact that the buildings were owned by Ellicott Development. According to state records, between October 2016 and September 2018, the various Ellicott Development entities made nine campaign contributions to the Delaware District representative, ranging in size from $100 to $500.
Feroleto also took no action to insulate 11 century-old structures at the corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues from demolition. Despite their inclusion in the Elmwood Historic District (East), the buildings stood in the way of Chason Affinity’s “1111 Elmwood” mixed-use project.
Chason Affinity submitted its application to City Hall in furtherance of the project in September 2016. Within 20 days of that filing, Feroleto received a $500 donation from the property owner, another $500 from the project’s architectural firm, and $250 from the law firm representing Chason Affinity. Ironically, when asked why he has been unwilling to take steps to protect historic Elmwood Village structures from the wrecking ball, Feroleto points to the “Green Code” – the city’s zoning and development ordinance adopted in 2017. According to the councilman, the Green Code was intended to expedite the zoning process by eliminating layers of review. In the instance of the proposed West Delavan demolitions, complying with the code resulted in no public input.
Conveniently forgotten by Feroleto was his role in crafting and adopting the Green Code, as a member and sole attorney on the city’s Common Council.
The zoning law approved by Feroleto intentionally places economic development as a higher priority than the quality of life of residents and preservation of historic neighborhoods. The Green Code omits language formerly included in Buffalo’s zoning ordinance that expressly stated that “demolition of structures for reasons other than to preserve public health, safety and/or welfare are not encouraged.”
More significantly, Feroleto rejected the recommendation from his own community working group that the Green Code require that any demolition in the Elmwood Village business district obtain Planning Board and Common Council approval.
Feroleto belatedly claimed to be researching an amendment to the Green Code requiring a public hearing – not at the Common Council – but at the Planning Board when similar demolitions are proposed.
If he truly wished to serve residents and preserve the history and character of Buffalo’s neighborhoods, Feroleto would have swiftly sought a moratorium barring any demolition (other than for safety reasons) until the Common Council could consider and vote on an amendment requiring a public hearing and Common Council approval for demolitions within any city or national historic district. The Elmwood Village deserves better.
Arthur J. Giacalone is an attorney specializing in land use, development and environmental law. He represented a plaintiff opposing the Chason Affinity project at Elmwood and Forest avenues.