Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of October 9, 2023

Date: October 13, 2023

By Regine Ndanga and Caitlin Love Crowell

Each week, PPG summarizes important takeaways from the major Buffalo Common Council meetings. We also include information from council meetings related to our Community Agenda items. If you want to learn more about how the council meetings work and how you can get involved, check out our guide.

For this summary, we will report on the Community Development, Finance, Civil Service, and Legislation Committee meetings. ‘Council Member’ is abbreviated as CM; ‘Council President’ as CP; and ‘Majority Leader’ as ML.

A group from Douglas Development spoke at the Community Development Committee about their plans for building on the Mohawk Parking Ramp site. They plan to construct at least 450 apartments and have promised that 15% of all units will be affordable housing. The committee approved the proposal, which must now go to the Planning Board for review.

McGuire Development addressed the council about acquiring an unused city-owned plot of land; they are hoping to locate the new Buffalo Public Schools Commissary there. This facility will allow for the preparation of more healthy and locally-sourced foods for children in Buffalo schools. This would be a win for the PPG Community Agenda as the Good Food Buffalo Coalition has been advocating for Good Food Purchasing for the Buffalo Public Schools since 2018. The commissary is a necessary step for the implementation of Good Food Purchasing. 

In the Finance Committee, Commissioner Delano Dowell from Administration and Finance spoke about the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency’s (BURA’s) annual action plan for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and HOME funds. The plan includes $90k for demolition, $3.7 million for repairs to owner-occupied homes, $570k for community facilities, and $1.4 million for the city’s administration costs.

Crystal Middleton, Director of Planning and Zoning, spoke about the Climate Resiliency Planning Initiative. They’re proposing a consulting contract for $97,000 that would entail an assessment of the city government’s greenhouse gas emissions and the vulnerabilities associated with that. CM Wyatt noted that the city was only being asked for $17,000 because the rest would come from a federal DEC grant.

Maria Chudy from the Office of Strategic Planning and Scott Billman from BURA spoke about additional federal HOME funds that came through the American Rescue Plan Act. These funds will pay for supportive housing services, creating more affordable units, and creating more emergency shelter space for unhoused residents. $1.5 million would go to administration, and $5 million is earmarked for program expenditures. Chudy and Billman said that the locations would depend on developer applications.

Lisa Hicks, Director of Development, asked for approval of $10 million in ARPA funds, to be met with $13.5 from Erie County, to plan and educate about affordable housing infill programs (development on vacant land in already-developed areas). The city has chosen the region’s land bank (Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, BENLIC) for the work.  Director Hicks said it was important to engage with communities to see how vacant lots should be managed. In some cases, the lots can be turned into parks and other uses – not just housing.

CP Pridgen said that BURA needs a liaison to the council, so the council can be more involved at the planning level.

Delano Dowell, Commissioner of Administration and Finance, gave an ARP Spending Plan update. He said that an application process for small business funding of $4.3 million would be online by October 16th, 2023.

Dino Clay, from Valencia Transportation Services, said that he had applied for small business funding already, but he hadn’t heard back. [As viewers, it’s unclear to us what application process was available before October 16, and it was not made clear in the meeting.]

In the Civil Service Committee meeting, discussion highlighted civil service job opportunities for people with disabilities. Willie McLaughlin, from the Civil Service Dept, explained that disabled applicants can waive the civil service examination and take advantage of 15 set-aside job positions, including in the Department of Public Works, Parking, Sewer, and Traffic Violations. The council was also addressed by Todd Vaarwerk, from Western New York Independent Living. Brittney Montgomery, Buffalo’s Americans with Disabilities Act advocate, who is also the Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinator, also attended the meeting.

CM Bollman said he believed that Buffalo, the second-largest city in New York State, should take a leadership role in promoting accessibility and inclusivity.

During the Legislation Committee meeting, Peter Reese, a Central Park neighborhood resident, spoke about the city’s failure to provide adequate notice when land is being rezoned. He also raised concerns about rezoning to create illegally-sized plots of land. CM Feloreto pointed out that council members do not vote on these variances even though their names are associated with them. CM Wyatt suggested imposing fines on applicants who fail to notify the public in time.

Angela Buchanan, from the Mortimer Spring Association, has requested the revocation of Mandela Market's license at the Broadway and Jefferson intersection due to health and sanitary concerns, as well as disruptive traffic. CP Pridgen noted that the property was no longer locally owned, which caused problems. The motion was held in abeyance (paused), awaiting information from the Department of Permit and Inspection Services.

Council members discussed the Marine Drive Apartment Complex Redevelopment. CP Pridgen applauded the project because it reaffirms that poor people also deserve to live in desirable and beautiful areas, like Buffalo’s waterfront. The designers explained that the master planning process was resident-driven, involving multiple meetings and open houses to gather feedback and inspire the project's development.