The battle between preservationists and the Peace Bridge Authority over the proposed demolition of eight vacant houses on Busti Avenue was aired for two hours Monday in federal court. The judge promised a quick decision.
Two lawyers from each side argued in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy on which environmental laws apply to the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, whether the demolitions are part of a larger project and whether the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture and several Peace Bridge neighbors have standing to bring the case.
McCarthy said he would rule quickly.
The plaintiffs maintain that the demolitions would not only affect historic properties, including the Storms-Wilkeson House, a city landmark, but that they are part of a much larger project – expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza – and that the State Environmental Quality Review Act must be carried out.
The demolitions are necessary whether a plaza expansion takes place or not, authority attorneys argued.
The authority also maintains that though it is not subject to the State Environmental Quality Review Act, it complied with it anyway.
Demolition of the houses was nearly under way in June when the plaintiffs in the case won a restraining order. The matter has been in court since then.
The houses have been vacant for years, and the authority, which owns them, hopes to demolish them to create green space and remove eyesores near the bridge, said spokesman Matthew N. Davison.
“Regardless of what happens in the future, it’s better off, with these homes, to demolish them,” Davison said.
Though the lawsuit has the support of some bridge neighbors, other residents unconnected to the suit have supported the demolitions in communications with the Common Council, saying the houses attract rats and are a fire hazard.
Details of any expansion remain unknown, as authority officials have said that they do not know yet what they will be able to build.
No plans for an expanded plaza have been aired publicly, and the authority’s board has not approved any.
On Aug. 15, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state had purchased the largest lien on the Episcopal Church Home property. Negotiations between the state and the nursing home’s owner continue, and the land has not changed hands.
On Aug. 4, Cuomo announced that the state and key city leaders had reached a preliminary agreement on another important piece of real estate.
However, no agreement regarding the transfer of two blocks of Busti Avenue from the city to the state, which is necessary for the plaza to expand, has made its way to City Hall for a presentation to the public or for a Common Council vote.