A Buffalo judge on Thursday ordered an emergency demolition of two deteriorating 19th-century properties in the city's Cobblestone District near the KeyBank Center.
Housing Court Judge Patrick M. Carney said the properties at 110 and 118 South Park Ave., pose a danger to the public.
The danger increased after the Christmas week blizzard, which buckled part of a roof, knocked down three walls and led to more masonry damage in an area blocked off from the public. Scaffolding to protect against falling bricks already surrounds a portion of 110 South Park that wraps around Illinois Street.
"The buildings represent a danger to public welfare and safety, and I am approving the motion for an emergency demolition," Carney said. "[City] inspectors said the buildings have become more dangerous from the prior storm."
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Preservationists have long been frustrated by primary owner Darryl Carr's failure to fix the historic properties and at how long the court case has languished. The locally landmarked district is certified by the National Park Service as a neighborhood that meets the requirements of the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationist Tim Tielman expressed outrage over the decision.
"It is a grotesque illustration of demolition by neglect," said Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture and the author of the local landmark listing for the properties. "These are the iconic buildings of the Cobblestone Historic District and are the reason that district was created. They are the last pre-Civil War era buildings on the entire buffalo waterfront."
Carney said he was swayed by recent photographs showing new damage to the properties, heightening his concern of further collapses of portions of the structures. He expressed his frustration at being unable to reach a better resolution over the years.
"I spent 14 years trying to salvage these buildings, and could not find an avenue to do it," Carney said.
Carr, who also owns the Cobblestone Bar and Grill just east of the buildings, has long contended the buildings are structurally unsafe and contaminated from industrial chemicals, and he has an engineering report that supports his position. He wants to build a high-rise building in their place featuring housing, a hotel and shops. He said he is beginning the process to get permits for the project, which he said will incorporate the buildings' facades in his project's design.
"It's a relief to actually get a judgment and be able to move on in some type of way with this process," Carr said.
City attorney Michael Perley said the city will appeal the decision, and Carney granted a seven-day stay of his order to allow time to do so.
"This is a very complex situation and the arguments are complex," Perley said afterward. "The judge already granted a stay and we will immediately appeal and we will prosecute that appeal diligently."
Perley has maintained that Carr's request to demolish the properties must go through the city's administrative demolition process, which includes a review by the advisory Buffalo Preservation Board.
"We are obviously upset and frustrated that Judge Carney would issue what we think is an unnecessary emergency demolition order," said Christiana Limniatis, Preservation Buffalo Niagara's director of preservation services. "These buildings are incredibly important and can be rehabilitated. We are happy to hear the city will be fighting it and continuing to pursue the eminent domain proceeding."
Preservationists have found an ally in the Brown administration and Fillmore Council Member Mitchell Nowakowski, whose district includes the Cobblestone District. They are seeking to seize the properties by eminent domain so a developer other than Carr can repair the buildings. The proposal is currently before the Common Council.
Carney cast doubt on the legality of taking Carr's property, calling the process "basically kind of a sham." He also questioned the economics of trying to salvage the properties, suggesting that even if a big-pocketed developer Douglas Jemal were to take on the project, it would be an "altruistic" act rather than an economically feasible one.
Carr purchased the three-story 1869 building at 118 South Park in 2003. That property, which was the longtime home of the Buffalo Blacksmith Shop, consists of buildings added on over the years that extend nearly halfway along Illinois Street.
The 1852 building at 110 South Park, purchased in 2008, was home when it opened to George Mugridge & Son Steam Bakery, makers of hardtack – a type of biscuit – for the Union Army during the Civil War. The building was also used by Phoenix Die Casting Co., which operated a machine shop in the front and a foundry in the back from 1950 to 1988.
The wrecking ball nearly came down on the properties in 2009, when then-Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak issued an emergency demolition. That order was later reversed on appeal.
Carr and the city agreed to mothball the buildings, leaving them in limbo for several years, while not prosecuting Carr for their condition. A succession of housing court violations, court-ordered repairs, fines and more court appearances followed.