The site of a former auto wrecking business in Black Rock isn’t much to look at, but a tug-of-war over the future of the parcel has become a major issue in City Hall, complete with two political heavyweights working behind the scenes for competing factions.
On one side is former Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who is lobbying for a Southern Tier scrap metal dealer – with a novel-worthy past – who wants to build a scrap-shredding firm at Hertel Avenue and Military Road.
On the other side is former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, who is making calls to influential people in an effort to stop the project.
“You’ve got heavy hitters on both sides,” said North Council Member Joseph Golombek, who has not taken a public position on the project, though he has heard from many constituents about it.
Kim Weitsman, a former model who lives in Owego and learned the scrap metal business during the last 10 years from her husband, Adam, will appear before the Common Council’s Legislation Committee today in an effort to convince Council members to approve the project.
There has been some question in City Hall as to whether Kim Weitsman, and not her husband, will be running the business.
Adam Weitsman served time in federal prison eight years ago on charges related to writing fraudulent checks, which prohibits him from running a scrap metal business in Buffalo. Since then, he has grown his family’s business into an empire across New York State that brings in $650 million a year, according to his company’s website. He has built a $20 million home on Skaneateles Lake, has an interest in art, and donated an extensive stoneware collection he cultivated to the State Museum in Albany.
Kim Weitsman said Monday that she will run the business, and her husband won’t be involved.
“This is something I wanted to do on my own,” she said.
She has experience in the operations and financial side, she said, and is interested in making the business environmentally sound.
“We don’t want to have the stigma of a scrap yard,” she said.
Adam Weitsman is a principal in a company that will own the property, which will lease it to Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo, owned by Harold Weitsman. The company is named for Ben Weitsman, Harold’s father and Adam’s grandfather.
Kim Weitsman would be the president and chief operating officer of Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo, said the Weitsmans’ lawyer, Laurence Rubin.
The Weitsmans would like to purchase a parcel at 409 Hertel, on the southwest corner of the Military Road intersection, and add a 12th site to their Upstate Shredding business, one that takes advantage of Buffalo’s proximity to Canada. The sale of the property is contingent on getting clearance for the business at City Hall.
The Weitsmans plan to process scrap metal and transfer it to their “mega shredder” in Owego, and export it to India, China, Taiwan and Turkey.
The Weitsmans plan to invest $7 million in the property, add landscaping and employ 20 to 30 people. They are not asking for tax breaks, Giambra said.
“These are not your grandfather’s scrap yards,” he added.
Adam Weitsman’s past legal troubles are not being hidden, Giambra said.
“We have all cards face up. We have nothing to hide,” he said.
The Weitsmans’ plan has inspired a public relations campaign from another scrap metal processor, Niagara Metals.
Niagara Metals has advertised its business heavily in the Riverside Review – as have the Weitsmans – but declined to comment for this story, or confirm that they had hired Masiello.
Two messages left for Masiello on Monday were not returned, and it is not clear who his client is.
The Weitsmans will need to convince the city Planning Board and the Council of their plans.
Golombek has fielded calls from Giambra and Masiello about the project and said he will have questions for Kim Weitsman when she appears before the committee at 2 p.m. today.
He expects to postpone action on the project until after the Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbors Planning Alliance takes another look at it on Nov. 28 and the city Planning Board reviews the site plan in December.
Golombek said his office received about 1,000 calls about the project – many more from people who are opposed to it – in what appeared to be an organized effort to connect people by telephone with Golombek’s office.
Golombek isn’t sure who is behind the calls.
Council President Richard A. Fontana said Kim Weitsman has the right to operate a company in Buffalo, and that she has experience in the business.
“It’s hard to call someone a shill who is not a shill,” Fontana said.
Neighbors have concerns about traffic around the property. Some would like the entrance to be on Hertel, and some would like it to be on Military.
Margaret Szczepaniec, chairwoman of the West Hertel Association, a neighborhood and business group, said cars should enter and exit on Military, or Military and Hertel, but not exclusively on Hertel.
Representatives of the Black Rock Riverside Good Neighbors group, however, said traffic should enter and exit the property on Hertel because of a nearby school and because of a revitalization of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood, which doesn’t want to see more truck traffic.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked,” Richard Mack, co-chairman of the planning alliance, said of the Weitsmans.
Mack also is editor and owner of the Riverside Review, which has published many advertisements from the Weitsmans and Niagara Metals. He said he will abstain if the alliance votes on the project.
Some neighbors are concerned about how dust at the site will affect a nearby school, while others have said that the area is already zoned for scrap metal handling.
“There is no good reason not to have it go in there,” said Evelyn Vossler, co-chairwoman of the planning alliance. “It’s already zoned for that type of business.”
A measure to grant licenses for scrap processing and wholesale junk dealing to Ben Weitsman and Son of Buffalo LLC was considered by the Council in July, but no action was taken, and it hasn’t been brought up since.