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The sight of two hydraulic excavators equipped for demolition parked next to the former Erie Freight House on Ohio Street over the weekend has alarmed preservationists, who have been lobbying to save the landmark building.
But James W. Comerford Jr., commissioner of the city Department of Permit and Inspection Services, said Monday that no demolition is imminent.
Samuel J. Savarino’s Savarino Companies and FFZ Holdings plan to knock down the building along the Buffalo River and build a $15 million loft apartment complex. But Comerford said Savarino had not applied for a demolition permit, adding that there would “not be any midnight demolitions.”
“We’re not issuing a demolition permit until they go through the process; I can tell you that right now,” Comerford said to reporters outside City Hall. “So they’re going to have to go through the process. They’re going to have to keep the property secured and go through the process of reviewing it with the Planning Board, and then we’ll make a determination after that.”
Comerford said Savarino is aware of what would be required to obtain a permit, given the property’s city landmark status. Preservationists say they want to ensure that the Preservation Board is properly notified of any permit issued to demolish the building and have called for the building to be sold to a buyer who would preserve it.
Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, History, Architecture and Culture, wrote a letter to Mayor Byron W. Brown questioning whether the city was preparing to issue an emergency demolition order for the freight house, without the developer requesting a permit.
Comerford acknowledged that he can issue such an order in what he considers an emergency, “but again, I’m not even certain, with the landmark status, what that would even entail.”
The commissioner said he was not inclined to issue such an order for the freight house “unless the building is falling down. I want to just go on record: It’s in pretty rough shape right now.”
Paul McDonnell, chairman of the Preservation Board, said no one has approached the board about demolishing the building. “We do not think there is any immediate harm to the health and safety of the public, and any concern can be mitigated by properly securing the property,” he said. “We see no need for an emergency demolition at all.”
Savarino said Monday he did not know when he would apply for a permit. He said the excavators were on-site because unauthorized people had been found inside the building, and he wanted to be prepared in case he had to act quickly to free someone who could become trapped.
“We didn’t know if the city would order us to take it down,” Savarino said, noting that the complex is already partly collapsed.

News Staff Reporter Mark Sommer contributed to this report. email: mglynn@buffnews.com