Buffalo landmarking meeting turns into verbal battle over exclusion

May 9, 2018

There probably has never been a Common Council Legislation Committee meeting like the one Tuesday. A paper work problem turned into an all-out verbal battle over creating a Broadway-Fillmore Historic District.

The proposed Broadway-Fillmore Historic District.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Designating a building or a neighborhood as a landmark isn't always a smooth passage from the Preservation Board through the Common Council. Sometimes an effort fails.

However, there probably hasn't ever been a process like Tuesday's meeting.

It was clearly intended as a routine approval for the planned Broadway-Fillmore Historic District by the Committee and then shipping it to the full Council for approval. However, the meeting couldn't go anywhere because the paperwork hadn't been done right. Another hearing will be held May 22.

In the meantime, landmarking was questioned as an attack on democracy because the process allegedly ignored the many residents who don't speak English in the neighborhood. Resident Jack York said the neighborhood leaflets about the process were only in English, ignoring what he said is the community minority.

"There's Burmese, there are Bengalis, Vietnamese, Spanish, African families," York told lawmakers. "Most people speak some English, but when they get flyers like these, it's very difficult for them to understand. Speaking English my whole life, it's actually kind of difficult for me to understand exactly what the repercussions of it are."

"A lot of Bangladeshis, a lot of folks in the Muslim community, folks that I personally spoke to that don't understand the flyers," said neighborhood activist Paul Harris. "They can't read the English on the flyers. They don't understand what this full program is about. I think folks need to clearly understand what the pros and the cons are."

Opponents also call landmarking Broadway-Fillmore an attack on the property rights of the residents because of the restrictions on building use and changes it would mandate.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara Executive Director Jessie Fisher said creating the historic district is important because it gives residents power over what happens in their community, like controlling demolition or development.

"It doesn't happen at 3 p.m. on a Friday and nobody knew about it," Fisher said. "You get to go to a hearing and say

New Testament Revival Cathedral was approved for landmark status.
Credit USAChurches.org

I want this demolition in my neighborhood or I don't want it. If someone is going to come in and build on those three lots, they absolutely can do that. There's nothing restricting it, except you as a community member actually get a stronger voice. Instead of it just going before the Zoning Board or the Planning Board, it goes before the Preservation Board."

Creation of the landmark district has been in the works for years. An outside consultant did historical research and studied the buildings in a proposed district, which is smaller than originally proposed because there has been so much demolition.

After more than an hour of talk Tuesday, the meeting was adjourned. By that time, the proper paperwork will have been prepared and there will be a decision by the committee.

Separately, the Committee approved and sent to the full Council a vote for the landmarking of what is now New Testament Revival Cathedral at 983 Kensington Ave.