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What to build on the site of Buffalo's former Deaconess Hospital?

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Mike Desmond
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WBFO News

Two competing visions of development for the former site of Deaconess Hospital along Humboldt Avenue in Buffalo collided Tuesday before the Common Council Legislation Committee.

The six acres or so are achingly obvious as a potential site for development, but it would cost because it is such a big site by local development standards. The land became an issue because the Community Action Organization wants to build a Head Start Academy and a pediatrician's office on the property, to eventually be followed by in-fill housing.

A large group of residents, especially from Riley Street, appeared to say they had a development plan and they didn't know about the CAO plan until it popped up in City Hall.

"That site has been available for other types of development for five years," said Valencia Sease, "and we have been meeting for five years and we have been suggesting for five years that that project be owner-occupied housing."

CAO President and CEO Nathan Hare said he talked to residents five years ago and they couldn't come to an agreement on what to build. He wants to build the Head Start center for around 232 kids by September because it would replace a site in Council President Pridgen's True Bethel complex, where the lease is running out.  That would be an $8 million project.

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Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
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WBFO News

"Just so we're clear, the Community Action Organization is a War on Poverty agency. It's not a war on rich people agency," said Hare. "So my initial thought process was about building housing that would meet the needs of poor and low-income people. The people that we are talking about right now, who are making the objections right now, objected to the idea of affordable housing."

The Council president said he can't vote on a decision, but persuaded the two sides to spend the next couple of weeks talking about what to do for Council action in September.

"The soonest that it would be before the full Council would be September," Pridgen said, "so that gives the community, CAO, a whole month to get together and to talk."

Both sides see the site as ideal for single-family housing, complementing a lot of owner-occupied homes in that area and new projects like the CAO's Saint Martin Village in the next block.

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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