Officials from St. John Baptist Church on Goodell Street say they want to freely exercise their right to build on and develop their own properties, particularly the ones in the McCarley Gardens Apartments and Fruit Belt communities.
But some residents, business owners and taxpayers in the neighborhoods said they want a larger voice in the process without hindering overall progress.
A proposed advisory council may be the answer to the continuing dispute between many who live, work and own property in the neighborhood, and the University at Buffalo and the church, which sold McCarley Gardens to UB for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus expansion.
The proposed council would be made up of community stakeholders and representatives from St. John and UB, who also would be encouraged to help form the panel. And it would provide an organized way of expressing community concerns and recommendations regarding tremendous growth in the area, said Common Council Member Darius G. Pridgen of the Ellicott District, who introduced the resolution.
The measure was approved Tuesday by the Council’s Legislation Committee. If the full Council adopts the resolution next Tuesday, a meeting to begin putting together the panel will be held at noon April 22.
“This is a way to make sure everybody’s voice is heard. In this way, residents would advise the Council members,” Pridgen said during the Council’s Community Development Committee meeting Tuesday. Lawmakers focused on a petition submitted last month calling for a moratorium on future development in the McCarley Gardens/Fruit Belt community until a master plan is developed by a panel that includes a majority of people who live and work in the neighborhood.
In a show of support, church members filled most of the seats in the Council chamber as the Rev. Michael Chapman made his remarks. He spoke about his participation in the Black Leadership Forum, which did a 2006 study of the East Side, including the Fruit Belt. Henry L. Taylor Jr., director of UB’s Center for Urban Studies, did the report that outlined the historical background and served as a guide for St. John development in that area, Chapman said.
He also noted that his wife’s family is one of the oldest in the Fruit Belt and that 200 residents of the Fruit Belt are members of the church, which has 25 corporations, including not-for-profits, employment and educational services and a hospice.
“I speak for 4,000 individuals at the church. We have $45 million worth of investment on the ground. I would ask that you not hinder us. Allow us to exercise this faith-based mission,” Chapman said.
Former Council President George K. Arthur, a community organizer working with the renters and property owners, countered by saying that the petition does not call for “any hindrance of projects.”
Instead, Arthur said, it calls for an opportunity for more community involvement as the projects proceed. “It’s just an opportunity for people to help make decisions. It’s a matter of corporation,” he said.
Arthur pointed out that the Taylor report encouraged a meeting with Chapman and residents to express concerns, recommendations and issues that may arise and that the church work with stakeholders “to develop a strong community participation plan.”
He said he has been an ally of St. John development projects dating from his years as Council president when he worked with Chapman’s predecessor, the late Rev. Bennett W. Smith.
“I helped Bennett W. Smith in the development of McCarley Gardens and the Bennett Smith Family Life Center,” Arthur said. “So a lot of those projects today, George Arthur had a hand in.”