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The Peace Bridge and the Episcopal Church Home

The State of New York is in the process of buying the Episcopal Church Home property the Peace Bridge operators need for their plaza expansion plan for roughly $4 million. The announcement came in a press conference by Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy here this past week. The previous week, the Public Bridge Authority settled for $1 million an $8 million lien encumbering the property. Eventually, the idea is, the state will hand over the property to the PBA.

Sometimes, as the cliché has it, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Other times, you get the feeling, the left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing, and vice-versa, but they just won’t tell you.

After the press conference I asked Sam Hoyt—who wears two hats, as chairman of the PBA and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s local liaison—why the state is involved in the Church Home property acquisition by the PBA? Why didn’t the PBA just buy the property from the Church Home? Hoyt said he really didn’t know the answer to that question. (If he doesn’t know, I would think, nobody knows.) He only noted that both entities—the state and the PBA—are working together on the matter, in the same direction. (But if nobody knows the game plan, how can they be working together?)

Lieutenant Governor Duffy in his announcement made general reference to the various environmental issues surrounding the plaza expansion proposal. Asked how those issues would be addressed, whether there would be an Environmental Impact Statement on the whole project, whether there would be a full State Environmental Quality Review Act process, his answer was classic shilly-shally. While committing to neither an EIS nor full SEQRA process, he said, “We’ll look at what’s been done already” in terms of environmental review. What has been done already is a partial EIS—which is not an actual EIS, legally or technically—on another project, at another time.

Joe Mascia, a candidate for the State Assembly in the district that includes the Peace Bridge neighborhood, showed up for the press conference but was denied entry. The district seat is currently occupied by Sean Ryan, who was present at the conference. There was no shortage of politicians—incumbents, that is—at the event, slobbering over each other, saying what a terrific job they’re all doing. Mayor Byron Brown spoke, and Congressman Brian Higgins, and Councilman David Rivera, but said nothing of interest.

In a related matter in Buffalo Housing Court this past week, Judge Patrick M. Carney, informed about fire protection issues at the Church Home property, ordered that either the installed sprinkler system or standpipe system be remade operative within 30 days. Told that the state might be in the process of buying the property, Judge Carney, in a possible obiter dictum, but with some feeling, called that “a big mistake.” Because “then who has jurisdiction over [the property]?” he said. “Nobody has jurisdiction.”

Judge Carney also gave the preservationist Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture, and Culture permission to enter and inspect in the company of a city building inspector Thornton Hall on the Church Home property. Thornton Hall is a locally landmarked structure, as is the Hutchinson Chapel on the property. The PBA has committed to preserving the Hutchinson Chapel, but would demolish Thornton Hall, according to a PBA spokesman.

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