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UB Comes to City Hall

Twenty-three minutes into his soliloquy at Tuesday’s hearing on McCarley Gardens before the Buffalo Common Council’s Community Development Committee, Mike Pietkiewicz—UB assistant vice president for government and community relations—was interrupted.

“Only because we have another committee meeting that is five minutes away,” said Ellicott District Councilman Darius Pridgen, “I want to be very to-the-point. I’ll be very honest. I’m a little frustrated.”

Pridgen was trying to focus Pietkiewicz’s presentation not on the grand plans the university has for real estate development on their north, south, and downtown campuses, in addition to the vital role the university sees itself playing in the overall future of the western end of New York State, but rather on concerns that have been expressed to his office by residents of McCarley Gardens. Could the 150 families currently living there be uprooted before 2017?

“That’s not a possibility,” Pietkiewicz said.

A recent PR mailer delivered to residents of the Cold Spring, Fruit Belt, and Allentown neighborhoods from UB had sprung the news that McCarley Gardens would not in fact be sold and knocked down until 2017. This revelation came out of the blue, three years after the contract for that sale was signed between the UB Foundation and Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corp., in 2010.

“The people of McCarley Gardens, have you met with them?” Pridgen asked.

“I respect your point of view on that. I would like to remind the council that we are not the landlords of the property,” Pietkiewicz replied. “With that said, we are engaging the residents directly. We’re building relationships with the tenant council. We have done that in the past. I won’t say that there isn’t also frustration on our part. We’re engaging different groups—not knowing if we’re engaging with the right groups. So we really are trying to engage everybody. Again, I would point out that we’re not the landlords of the property.”

“The thing that disturbs me is that there is no money right now to do any of these things you’ve described,” Pridgen said. “I still really have no understanding of what is going to be there, other than some concepts. I remain concerned because the people who put me in this chair are concerned.”

Niagara District Councilman David Rivera further pressed Pietkiewicz on UB’s plans for the 15 acres of land on which McCarley Gardens sits. Pietkiewicz could not answer, because he couldn’t predict when the economic situation in the state and the country would turn around.

“I have been in this chamber a great many years,” began former common council president George K. Arthur, “and have listened through an awful lot of speakers. A lot of them with silver tongues. And never, in over the 30 years I’ve been in this chamber, have I ever heard as much double-talk and gobbledygook as I’ve heard right now. The bottom line here is: McCarley Gardens should not be sold.”

Arthur said it was an insult to the common council that Pietkiewicz had been sent to speak on behalf of the UB Foundation, which is the private entity that is engaging in the sale of the property. “It is the foundation that has ignored everyone. The residents asked that they see the contract, asked for representation on this so-called advisory board. The foundation did not respond. They sent it over to UB. That’s why when Councilman Rivera asked his question, he couldn’t get an answer. This gentleman can’t give any answers. He’s a staff person.”

Arthur then suggested that a community benefit agreement, similar to what was hammered out for Canalside, be adopted to benefit the people of McCarley Gardens and the Fruit Belt. “I would ask that, if someone was here who could give me an answer. But nobody can answer that question, because nobody of any authority is here.”

Arthur also had a stinging assessment of the recent “community cleanup” by UB students in the Fruit Belt. “UB has been in this city for 167 years, since 1846,” he said. “And one day out of 167 years they found the Fruit Belt. The only way they got students to go down there was to say that they wanted to have a ‘getting dirty party.’ What an insult. What a racist insult!”

Arthur said he hoped the Common Council would make a commitment to say “no” to anything that deals with the selling of McCarley Gardens, because UB’s intentions are not honorable when it comes to the folks who live there.

“The people in McCarley Gardens are not accustomed to dealing with government. They’re being frightened and taken advantage of,” Arthur told the Council. “And you, as I’ve said before, represent the people’s will. Our will is that McCarley Gardens not be sold.”

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