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What's in a lawn? Preservation Board says history, developer says parking spaces

In an often angry discussion Thursday, the Buffalo Preservation Board denied a proposal to pave over much of the lawn of the historic American Red Cross mansion at Delaware Avenue and Summer Street to allow for more commercial development in the building.

Matrix Development is in the middle of splitting the four acres long held by the Red Cross, splitting off the old blood bank building from the rest of the property. Developer John Yurtchuk said he needs at least 50 more parking spaces - on top of the current 149 - to make effective use of the property.

"The whole point of this is to preserve what is a very important house on Delaware and make sure it stays in not-for-profit use," he said. "Just so you know, we do need more parking to help. We're also talking to the Oishei Foundation about the rear building, along with the Ralph Wilson Foundation about potentially being an incubator for non-profits."

The plan would mean removing the hedge along Summer and Delaware and much of the vast lawn. Architect Doug Hutter said much of the four acres and buildings are not historic to the historic district.

"The mansion is not changing. This front lawn is not changing. That's a huge component of the character of what we plan," Hutter said. "Now, in 1977, the Red Cross put this on in principle for office use and blood donor center because the original component of the building is blocked. This building is by no way contributing to the district."

Preservation Board Chairman Paul McDonnell led the charge against the plan.

"Every single mansion - Clement, Knox, Forman-Cabana, Walker-Green, Goodyear, all the way down - have all in some way maintained that expansive front lawn," said McDonnell. "So now we will be losing at this corner the lawn of Delaware Avenue and this is what's character defining about what we know as Millionaires Row."

Preservation Board Member Eric Lander described the architectural landscape plan as "suburban style."

There was some support for the plan because it would re-use all of the old Stephen Clement mansion, long occupied by the Red Cross. Other neighbors blasted the plan.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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