St John designated as Fruit Belt developer

Apr 11, 2012

Saint John Baptist Church is being named "designated developer" for 50 city-owned lots in the Fruit Belt as it moves forward on a multi-million dollar plan to build 49 rental town houses.

They will be scattered across the community on the now-vacant lots.

It's part of a continuing expansion of Saint John and its affiliates, including a charter school, a planned second charter and the leafy McCarley Gardens housing complex which it plans to sell to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

However, there are critics of the plan.

Steve Mackie owns a car repair operation on Lemon Street and wishes he could buy vacant lot as easily as he says the church can.

"I'd like to start a program in my neighborhood. There's some lots on Lemon Street I'd like to acquire, if its feasible, but I never heard (of) them coming up for sale. I would like to do something in the Fruit Belt to enhance (the neighborhood) as well as train people."

Mackie says he was forced to sell property to the medical campus for too-low a price.

Some neighbors appeared at a Council Economic Development Committee meeting in opposition because they are concerned about who will rent the town houses.

Saint John Pastor Michael Chapman says he's willing to let others get some of the vacant lots if they have a development plan.

The pastor says the church has spent millions over the last decade and will be spending tens of millions more this year and next year on housing and commercial space to take advantage of the business opportunities of the medical campus.

"We can do good housing (projects). We can do good commercial projects. This is a comprehensive development model," said Chapman. 

"Those empty lots give us one advantage. The west side doesn't have space. The only place to build is on the east side of Buffalo."