Does the Rev. Michael Chapman have reason to believe he holds rights to a dilapidated Civil War-era house owned by the city?
That’s the vexing question Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen wants answered.
Chapman, head of Buffalo’s St. John Baptist Church, wants to demolish the 5,400-square-foot structure to make way for a 5,000-square-foot market, cafe and pharmacy. The church’s St. John Fruit Belt Community Development Corp. got Planning Board approval in March to build the $1.7 million project.
In the meantime, other developers have expressed interest in the site, including John Gulick, who has done other preservation projects in the city and wants to restore the house.
After the Planning Board vote, the city’s Preservation Board, with the support of some neighborhood residents, voted to designate the house at 204 High St. and two other nearby buildings a historic district. Such a designation would also require Common Council approval.
At the Council’s Legislation Committee meeting Tuesday, the application for the historic designation was forwarded to the full Council, but the committee did so without recommending whether it should pass or fail.
Chapman told lawmakers the community development corporation has been working on plans for the new market and pharmacy for three years, and he thought the project was ready to move forward.
“The land has been sitting there, desolate, for the last 15 years or so,” he said.
The church’s development agency has already spent $150,000 on architectural and engineering services. Had anyone anticipated problems building on the site, the church would have selected another piece of land, Chapman said.
“I’m a little disheartened that anyone, after we spent $150,000, would come in at that last second,” he said.
The question of preservation or demolition after so many expenses and years of work by the church left Pridgen frustrated.
“I want to apologize for the process in City Hall,” Pridgen said. “I don’t think that $150,000 was spent by a very intelligent person without any thought of whether that land would be his.”
If promises were made to Chapman that he had rights to develop the city-owned property, Pridgen wants the officials who pledged that land to Chapman to come forward.
“Somebody has told you that land will be yours,” Pridgen said.
The Council, however, never voted to give the church’s community development corporation designated developer status. The city placed the property “on hold” for St. John CDC in 2011, Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, said in March. City officials did not respond to a request Tuesday afternoon for updated information on the property’s status.
The proposed project would be at the corner of High and Maple streets – the beginning of the Fruit Belt and eastern edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Chapman has said the church-sponsored business would cater to Fruit Belt residents as well as medical campus personnel.
At a public hearing Tuesday in City Hall, Fruit Belt residents offered opposing views to city lawmakers on whether the three properties should be designated a historic district.
“Why must we destroy what we can re-purpose?” asked Leema Kaaid, who owns a delicatessen at 195 High St., believed to be the longest continually operating market in the city.
Others, such as Zaid Islam, said that the Meidenbauer-Morgan house at 204 High St. should come down.