Plans for new apartments along the Buffalo River took a step back on Thursday when the Preservation Board denied a request to dismantle the city’s last remaining freight warehouse.
Samuel J. Savarino, whose company is planning an $18 million building housing first-floor parking, 78 apartments and office space on Ohio Street, said the issue isn’t over. The board voted 5-2 against his request.
The Erie Freight House was built in 1868 and is designated a city landmark, but has suffered from water damage for many years and was condemned by the city in 2011.
The board held a public hearing on Thursday, during which Savarino and a neighboring property owner spoke in favor of granting the demolition request. No one spoke against it.
Savarino, who said he is willing to pay to dismantle the building instead of just demolishing it, was able to work with Preservation Buffalo Niagara on a plan to salvage whatever materials he could and reuse them at another location, and construct interpretive elements at the site to remind visitors of its history.
That was not enough for the board.
Several board members who voted against the request said that while they were torn on the issue, they could not agree to a request to demolish a building after it had been designated a landmark.
“We are the city of Buffalo Preservation Board,” said Timothy Tielman, adding that “preservation” implies some kind of positive action to preserve things.
During the hour-long meeting Thursday, board members engaged in a lively philosophical discussion about their role and a debate about the purpose of the city’s landmarking process.
“I tend to agree it’s too bad to demolish a landmark,” said John Laping, adding, however, that the building doesn’t have much of its structure left.
“It is literally gone,” Laping said. “It’s evolutionary, my friends. It’s OK to let it go.”
Following the vote, Savarino noted the bad condition of the building, and wondered whether it would make it through another winter, or be subject to emergency demolition, which would not allow for the more delicate dismantling process he proposed.
“A threat to life and safety exists out there,” he said.
Savarino also could appeal to the Common Council.
Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk toured the freight house earlier this year and said it is in bad condition.
“That’s part of our industrial heritage, I understand that,” said Franczyk, who considers himself a preservationist. “I would support Savarino moving forward, and saving as many of those elements as possible.”
Voting in favor of letting Savarino proceed were Laping and Terry Robinson.
Voting against were Tielman, Board Chairman Paul McDonnell, Eric Lander, Richard Lippes and Don Gilbert.