Surprise demolition of partially collapsed building in Buffalo, New York met with opposition

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Part of the building collapses during demolition.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Buffalo, New YorkWikinews has learned that, in a surprising turn of events, the city of Buffalo located in New York, has ordered and begun an emergency demolition on a three story 19th century stable which partially collapsed on Wednesday June 11 causing at least five homes to be evacuated. Residents are not happy, and despite the short notice of the demolition, nearly 30 people showed up to protest it. Demolition was not supposed to begin until Monday June 16.

At about 2:30 p.m. (eastern time) on June 13, demolition crew arrived at the stable located at 428 Jersey Avenue and began to unload heavy equipment which will be used to demolish the building. This came as a surprise to residents, as demolition was not supposed to start until Monday June 16.

During the early afternoon hours on June 11, the Buffalo Fire Department was called to scene after residents called 9-1-1 stating that part of the building had collapsed. Material from the building fell into the yards of at least three neighboring houses. Some of the bricks landed inside the building, while some fell into the yards of some houses behind homes on Richmond Avenue, leaving a 'V' shape.

At about 3:30 p.m. crews began to demolish a small portion of the stable located behind Joe Murray's home, a resident who lives behind a portion of the building on Jersey and Richmond avenues. While demolition was taking place, the section collapsed into Murray's backyard, prompting a call to police. Some residents who own home surrounding the building were inside Murray's house holding a neighborhood meeting when demolition began. No one was injured when the section collapsed.

"[The building] can come down any minute," stated Donna Berry of the Buffalo Police Department who also added that when police arrived on scene, they immediately put a stop to demolition, fearing the safety of surrounding residents and pedestrians.

"So many [of the] people [living around the building] are at risk, it makes me want to cry," added Berry.

Police and fire officials arrive to halt demolition.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

Police, local politicians and area residents are concerned that demolition crews and the city are not taking the proper precautions to ensure the safety of residents during demolition.

"[There is] no protection for neighbors. [This is] appalling and beyond negligence," stated Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Buffalo who was referring to the negligence of the demolition crew.

"[In order to stop demolition] citizens must demonstrate direct harm to themselves," added Tielman.

The city's preservation board held an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss the issue. Wikinews has learned that the owner of the building, Bob Freudenheim, gave the city permission to demolish the building because he would not be "rehabilitating the building anytime soon." Freudenheim was part-owner of the Hotel Lenox at 140 North Street in Buffalo and was also an advocate to stop the Elmwood Village Hotel from being built on the corners of Forest and Elmwood Avenues in 2006 and 2007, which Wikinews extensively covered. He also financially supported a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the hotel from being built. Though it is not known exactly how long Freudenheim has owned the stable, Wikinews has learned that he was the owner while fighting to stop the hotel from being built.

Tielman states that he was in contact with Freudenheim this morning. Tielman states that Freudenheim "is not spending a dime" to have the building renovated. Tielman states that Freudenheim has offered to sell the building to any interested party for only one US dollar, but that he "flip flops [his decision] constantly," sometimes wanting hundreds of thousands of dollars for the building. Wikinews has attempted to contact Freudenheim, but so far has been unsuccessful.

City building inspectors were also on scene evaluating the building and ensuring the safety of residents. Donald Grezebielucina states that "some people are on notice to vacate their properties", but also stated that no other precautions were being taken other than placing "tires and scaffolding" onto the side of 430 Jersey, which sits less than eight feet from the buildings East side.

"The gas has been shut off in case we lost the building, so there would be no explosions or anything like that. It's so unstable, the structural integrity is gone. The chemical composite of the trusses has changed dramatically and dry rotted. There are three vehicles in the basement which totally disappeared," stated Grezebielucina to the press while protesters yelled "save our building, save our neighborhood."

Residents protest the building's demolition.
Image: Jason Safoutin.

Wikinews has also learned that local residents have consulted a lawyer regarding the issue, and hope to petition the New York State Supreme court to issue an injunction to stop demolition. They states that Freudenheim should be "100% responsible" for his actions, and many are afraid that once the building is demolished, Freudenheim's charges of neglect will be abolished. Freudenheim is facing housing violations for neglecting the building. Though residents are fighting, Tielman states that "an injunction is unlikely."

"We had a letter of violation against him. He was supposed to have started work to stabilize the brick this Monday. We all hope this building could be saved. But we've got five houses evacuated and we cannot tolerate any further delay. We've got to get people back into their homes in a safe condition," said Richard Tobe, Commissioner of the city's Permit and Inspection Services.

Demolition is set to resume at 8:00 a.m.in the morning of Saturday June 14.

Mike Lombardo, the Commissioner for the Buffalo Fire Department, believes that the building was built in 1812 or 1814, making it nearly 200 years old. It is one of only three stables still standing in the city.


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