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Fight over Gates Circle cleanup stalls in Common Council

Mike Desmond
Construction debris covers the Gates Circle site.

The unusual fight to create an area to deal with blight while surrounded by some of Buffalo's most expensive homes was stalled in the Common Council Community Development Committee Tuesday. Council President Darius Pridgen wants to know more about the associated legal issues.

The proposal would create the Linwood Lafayette Urban Development Action Area, to help developer TM Montante solve financial issues and build on the old Millard Fillmore Hospital site at Gates Circle. Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency General Counsel Scott Billman said it would allow tax breaks on new buildings.

"Right now, what we have is for the campus, that area, the former Millard Fillmore Hospital area," said Billman, "and if the approval and the designation goes forward and that area is designated, thereafter individual projects can be applied to the Planning Board and this Council for approval."

Montante has done little with the site except sell two properties to developers who built new buildings: Canterbury Woods and People Inc. Residents and neighbors say the rest of the property is a mess of building materials and construction debris, something the company says will be resolved this spring.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

One Canterbury neighbor blasted Montante for its operations in a wealthy neighborhood with million-dollar homes.
"The houses on the East Side are undergoing, in many cases, a good revitalization. There are expensive Miami-style condos down the street and we're supposed to give - and let's not forget, these are municipal tax resources - we're supposed to give a 20-year tax abatement to the project and that's going to take money from other areas. How is this not corporate welfare? It's worse than welfare."

Montante lawyer Jennifer Persico defended the plan, saying there would still be some taxes paid.

"This isn't just corporate welfare. This is something significantly different," Persico said. "The tax abatement applies to the assessments of value that are post-improvement, so the benefits that my client would be receiving are not taking away any money from the city."

To make the legalities work and hit the required 60 percent public ownership of property, the city has included the surface area of streets in the immediate area, a city parking ramp and the Gates Circle fountain.

Neighbor James Smith said his community on Lancaster Avenue would benefit from the project building, but he said the city should get something in exchange for this deal.

"A little self-respect for the city. I think you ought to ask to get something back before granting this," Smith said. "I think the idea that this is not really a significant decision that you're taking today is crazy. It's just one more step down the road to giving every tax abatement that every subsidiary developer that shows up there is going to ask for and get."

Montante has agreed to clean up the long-stalled construction site and haul away construction debris.

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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