Residents fear environmental hazard on site of partially collapsed building in Buffalo, New York

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Buffalo, New York —Residents in Buffalo, New York fear that demolishing a nearly 200-year-old livery and stable which partially collapsed on Wednesday June 11, could cause an environmental hazard.

Wikinews has learned that according property records with the city, the stable was converted into a gasoline station and auto repair shop in 1950, and is designated as a body shop. During that time at least four fuel storage tanks were installed on the property. Two are listed as 550 square feet while the other two are 2,000 square feet. All of the tanks are designated as a TK4, which New York State says is used for “below ground horizontal bulk fuel storage.” The cost of installing a tank of that nature according to the state, at that time, included the tank itself, “excavation and backfill,” but did not include “the piping, ballast, or hold-down slab orring.”

Property reports give the tanks a ‘construction code’ of a “C – Average”, meaning the tanks were not designed to last for a significant period of time. That rating has residents concerned that the tanks could pose an environmental hazard if they are not properly taken care of.

Wikinews has not been able to determine if the tanks have been removed or if they were emptied when the gas station closed sometime in the 1980’s. Wikinews has also contacted the city of Buffalo for a comment regarding the tanks, but has yet to receive a response.

The building was scheduled for emergency demolition on Thursday June 12, but was stopped by police after residents raised concerns for the safety of those living around the building. According to New York law, since the city ordered the demolition, they are required to perform an ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ or SEQR when a project or demolition has the possibility of posing an environmental hazard.

According to New York law, a SEQR should be performed “to incorporate the consideration of environmental factors into the existing planning, review and decision-making processes of state, regional and local government agencies at the earliest possible time. To accomplish this goal, SEQR requires that all agencies determine whether the actions they directly undertake, fund or approve may have a significant impact on the environment, and, if it is determined that the action may have a significant adverse impact, prepare or request an environmental impact statement.”

The law states, “SEQR requires the sponsoring or approving governmental body to identify and mitigate the significant environmental impacts of the activity it is proposing or permitting.” It also states that it is the duty of the governmental body in charge of a project to enforce the laws of the SEQR. It also states that agencies must give “appropriate weight with social and economic considerations” when undergoing major projects.

The law also allows citizens to enforce the regulation stating, “citizens or groups who can demonstrate that they may be harmed by this failure [SEQR], may take legal action against the agency” or governmental body behind such a project. The court system in New York has been known to “consistently” rule in favor of plaintiffs who file lawsuits against agencies who do not perform a SEQR.

Residents won a restraining order to stop demolition after State Supreme Court Justice Judge John. F. O’Donnell signed a temporary injunction. Residents are concerned demolition crews moved too fast, and are not doing enough to protect them and their surrounding properties. They are also concerned that the city did not consider all the options or risks before ordering the building to be demolished.

On June 15, Judge Jerome C. Gorski ruled that the city can resume demolition, but “on a limited basis” only to remove fallen rubble that landed on properties, and to remove any loose bricks or material from the building, but not below its truss line. Because of the risk of further collapse, the workers are ordered “to use only hand tools.” to remove the loose material and debris. Residents are attempting to save portions of the building’s side walls and its facade. The demolition crew began to remove some materials, as ordered by the court on Tuesday, June 17.

Judge Gorski also ordered that the plaintiffs present their case in front the State’s Supreme Court in Rochester. The hearing took place on Monday morning on June 16 at 10:00 a.m. (eastern time), and the case is currently “being discussed,” said an anonymous source close to the lawsuit to Wikinews.

Bob Freudenheim is the building’s owner who has housing violations against him for neglecting the building. Residents state 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. According to WGRZ Channel 2 News, in the past three months, Freudenheim has received at least five housing code violations from the city. WGRZ states that the orders, which they obtained, were to fix the building “to a safe condition.”

Freudenheim gave the city permission to demolish the building on Thursday June 12 during an emergency Preservation Board meeting, because he would not be “rehabilitating the building anytime soon.” Freudenheim, along with his wife Nina, were part-owners of the Hotel Lenox at 140 North Street in Buffalo and were advocates 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. They 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.

Freudenheim has not released a statement, and Wikinews has not been able to contact him regarding the issue.

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