Charges that the University at Buffalo and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus officials have not properly communicated with McCarley Gardens and some East Side residents should be met head-on, and finally resolved.
So far, that has been a challenge.
University officials make a strong case that they have, for the past couple of years, made a concerted effort to communicate with residents, sometimes individually and other times in groups. That doesn’t change the perception of a few residents, who protested to The News that their voices have not been heard.
McCarley Gardens is the low-income apartment complex owned by St. John Baptist Church with 149 apartments on 15 acres bound by Michigan Avenue and Oak, Goodell and Virginia streets. It is located within the borders of the Medical Campus.
About three years ago, Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corp., a development arm of St. John’s, agreed to sell the parcel to UB for $15 million. Tenants must be relocated to housing that is equal or better than their current housing at no extra cost to them. So far, no relocation date has been set, because the plan still needs federal approval.
Meanwhile, some residents of McCarley Gardens and some residents on the East Side affected by changes to a growing Medical Campus have complained that they have not been allowed a seat at the table. University officials strongly disagree and have offered several examples of meetings, both formal and informal.
Back in 2010, university officials announced the agreement in principle with Oak-Michigan Housing Development. One of the contingencies of that contract was the formation of the Economic Opportunity Panel, put together by the church and UB. It was designed to have three people appointed by the church and three by the university. Its charge was to interview residents and meet with community and business leaders and partner institutions – Kaleida Health, Roswell Park and others – over a period of a year and come up with actions the university and St. John’s could take to ensure the transaction benefits the area surrounding the property.
This effort didn’t set well with those who were unhappy that the panel did not include residents.
As told to The News, there was a misconception that people from the neighborhood should be on the panel, when the purpose was that the people on the panel would go out and interview neighborhood residents. The panel conducted more than 70 group meetings or individual interviews – ranging from Fruit Belt leadership groups to individuals identified as leaders to those in economic or work force development.
Another process around the Medical School relocation to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus included a recent meeting at the Allendale Theater. It was similar to the one that occurred about a month ago with the Community Advisory Group, and included members of Allentown and four or five leaders of the Fruit Belt neighborhood. There are plans for another meeting directly on the other side of campus to discuss Fruit Belt, parking and transportation issues. Yet another meeting will occur on economic and work force development.
One of the complaints from Fruit Belt residents is that there is no meeting place, so gatherings have occurred at St. John’s or Roswell Park or one of the university’s buildings. Moreover, the university plans to open a community relations center downtown, opening on Friday, at the corner of Goodell and Ellicott and offering a front door for people when they have questions.
This has been an uphill experience for everyone. There are numerous issues and numerous leaders, some recognized and others self-appointed. Neighborhood residents need to have an opportunity to voice their opinions and know that they are being taken seriously.
Efforts have been made, but even university officials recognize that, regardless of how much they may believe they are doing and perhaps are doing, they will have to continue to work even harder.