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Council wants to give public its say during virtual committee meetings, hearings

With its first virtual meeting since City Hall closed under its belt, the Buffalo Common Council is now looking to resume committee meetings virtually so that the public has a chance to weigh in despite restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tuesday's regular meeting was streamed live on the Council's Facebook page, with each member participating remotely from home in accordance with the stay-at-home rules mandated in reaction to the novel coronavirus.

President Darius G. Pridgen said staff will work with the corporation counsel to try to resume committee meetings virtually to include public hearings in which individuals can be heard.

"We will figure out what legally can be done to continue committee meetings and to include the public," Pridgen said during Tuesday's meeting.

When City Hall was closed to the public on March 16, the Council announced it would cancel its  committee meetings – which are held every other Tuesday – until further notice.

The Council's March 17 business meeting was held in the building, but it was not open to the public. Instead, the public could watch it live on Spectrum cable's government access channel 1304 or on the internet through the city's website at buffalony.gov. The meeting also streamed live on the Council's Facebook page. But the public was not able to speak during the meeting, which is standard practice at Council business meetings.

But during Tuesday's virtual meeting, Pridgen said the Council would work on resuming committee meetings and public hearings so that the community could weigh in on resolutions and projects.

Tuesday's meeting was the first led by Pridgen since he went live on Facebook Sunday to announce he had tested positive for Covid-19.

During the meeting, the Council unanimously approved the sale of the Gallagher Parking Ramp at 489 Elmwood Ave. to developers of the Elmwood Crossing project to build 20 townhomes on West Utica Street.

The $1.7 million purchase price was based on the appraised valuation, according to documents filed with the City Clerk's Office. Of that, 10% will be paid when the agreement is finalized, with the balance paid at closing.

However, construction on the project will have to wait. On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered all nonessential construction shut down across New York in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Buffalo Planning Board on Feb. 10 approved the townhouse development by Sinatra & Company Real Estate and Ellicott Development Co. as part of their Elmwood Crossing project.  The ramp will provide parking for the entire project, which also includes apartments, a hotel, a grocery, shops and offices on the former Women & Children's Hospital campus.

The plan called for demolishing 184 W. Utica St. Buffalo officials granted developers a demolition permit to demolish the 1907 house on Feb. 26, less than 24 hours after the Buffalo Preservation Board recommended granting the structure historic landmark status. The status would have prevented demolition or any other exterior changes without Preservation Board approval.

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