Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of February 13, 2023

Buffalo Common Council Summary: Week of February 13, 2023

Date: February 16, 2023

By Rose Thomas, Sarah Wooton, Tanvier Peart |

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

This week's summary focuses on three meetings. The Legislation Committee focuses on local laws, ordinances, and general legislation—except for civil matters. The Finance Committee concerns all matters about the budget and issuance of bonds. The Community Development Committee focuses on issues about work or improvement using revenue from another government unit.

The Legislation Committee hosted a series of public hearings during the meeting. Council members listened to a zoning map amendment request regarding phase two of the McCarley Gardens. The project aims to rezone 1.5 acres of the total property site and is an extensively reviewed project by the Planning Board. If approved, there would be a six-story mixed-use building—for commercial space and 220 units for workforce and affordable housing. Residents would target 40%, 60%, and 80% AMI, with Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus ("BNMC") employees as primary residents. An advocate supporting the McCarley Gardens proposal noted the intention not to displace current residents but incorporate them into the first project phase.

However, Henry Zomerfeld from Hodgson Russ reiterated concerns with the project, including existing city-owned property, contractual agreements, and the environmental impacts of rerouting traffic through the area. Connie Irvin, a Fruit Belt property owner, stated the proposal for the traffic rerouting impacts the greater community, not just the BNMC. "This whole proposal must be looked at in conjunction with the entire community and not just this section of the city," she added. Dr. Cashow from the Fruit Belt Coalition echoed Irvin's sentiments and wants the community at the forefront of decisions.

Council President Pridgen acknowledged issues concerning this project, noting the Planning Board tabling related items. He also addressed the attorney who testified in favor of the project, referencing his past resolution he championed supporting affordable housing. "I've always been an advocate for affordable housing," the Council President said. "One of the biggest reasons McCarley Gardens is still there today is because I fought against UB buying it. I don't want this to be—as it has been some time in the past—Pridgen being against." His reluctance to support the project extends beyond the Planning Board tabling the project but also the Fruit Belt Advisory Council coming to the Council with concerns.

"I do want to see affordable housing; we just have to do it right," Council President Pridgen said. "If you don't live in that neighborhood, you might not know about the traffic flows .... I do want to see this project go forward in a way that benefits people who need affordable housing and people who live in the neighborhoods. There has to be an agreement."

Catherine Gillespie of the Buffalo Arts Commission ("BAC") spoke about arts funding in the Finance Committee. Gillespie explained that, before 2001, the City allocated over $1 million to arts organizations yearly. Since then, the City has combined arts funding with violence prevention, and the BAC has no say over the allocation of those funds. Throughout this discussion, it became clear that no one in the room knew how the City dispersed those funds to the community. An attorney from the City Law Department said she'd look into this. The BAC would like $400,000 in the budget to go to arts and cultural organizations, and the BAC would like to review the applications for that funding.

Gillespie also asked for $15,000 in matching funds for a comprehensive arts and cultural plan. Erie County has already committed to providing these funds too. This request and the $400,000 operating funds align with plank six on the 2023 Community Agenda, "Re-Establish Annual Funding for the Arts in the City of Buffalo."

The BAC would also like $100,000 to acquire new public art, $60,000 to help fund the public art curator position at the Albright Knox and $10,000 as an operating budget for the BAC. The Finance Committee adopted this funding recommendation. Gillespie also reminded the Council that, according to the charter, the City must dedicate 1% of the capital improvement budget to public art. Council members asked for more information about this law.

Maria Melchiorre Chudy, HUD Programs Manager, spoke on the City's HOME ARP funding. Chudy explained that HUD mandated a public session to get feedback on how to spend the $12.3 million in HOME ARP funds. She said that housing service providers and the general public expressed a need for new affordable housing units—especially larger units that can house bigger families. Council Member Rivera agreed with this need. 

The City is seeking reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") for roughly $13 million in overtime costs due to the December blizzard and the October storm. Individual homeowners are not eligible to receive reimbursement through this process. The City will also update its emergency management plan. William Renaldo, Commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department, would like to wait to update the plan until the City fills the new emergency manager position—also known as homeland security/defender coordinator. Some council members expressed a need to include generators for warming centers and funding for staffing at warming centers in the updated plan.

Delano Dowell, Commissioner of Administration, Finance, Policy, and Urban Affairs, explained that the City allocated $81 million of its $331 million in ARP funds. The City has spent $63 million of those allocated funds so far. Council Member Bollman explained that RFP decisions for some ARP funds are coming, possibly within the coming months.

In the Community Development Committee meeting, Council Member Golembek spoke on the sidewalk removal program. Justin Booth, Executive Director of GObike Buffalo, sent a letter on behalf of the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Board ("the Board") to the Council requesting a municipal sidewalk snow removal program. The Board noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") states the government is responsible for the safety of sidewalks and public facilities to be accessible for those with disabilities.

Council Member Golombek is hopeful of approving this agenda item in a couple of weeks when the advisory board joins the Council. In his perspective, absentee landlords and businesses are responsible for blocking sidewalks with the snow they shoveled out of their properties. He requested Council collect data on the number of tickets issued this year versus last year, as he believes penalization would make people change their actions.

Council Member Bollman spoke of several warming shelters losing power. He hopes the City will prepare more for the winter with backup generators. Council is looking into resources in the Buffalo area that can serve as warming shelters, such as community centers, senior centers, and schools.

Later in the committee meeting, Karima Bondi, a Delaware District resident and block club member, spoke on No Mow May. The environmental initiative began in 2019 for homeowners to participate in allowing their lawns to grow to support pollination in the area. Bondi suggested that not mowing the lawn at least until June 1 would provide an extra boost for bees and butterflies for a better growing season. Council Member Feroleto hopes that the Council can move forward with this issue. 

Lastly, regarding the incident with Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin, Council Member Bollman called for the installation of automated external defibrillators in City Hall in the case of a medical emergency. With this initiative, Bollman hopes to have medical emergency training for city employees and CPR training available in person and online. During this meeting, the council member stated that he wanted to expand beyond City Hall to senior centers, youth centers, and schools. 

Need more than just a summary? Contact us at info@ppgbuffalo.org, or find full meeting information and schedules here: http://buffalony.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx