Long Story Short: Urban adventures
illustration by JP Thimot
Just how drunk do you have to be to slam into twelve parked cars, a tree, and a basketball hoop? How does that even happen? Do you wake up one day and say, “You know, I think I’ll go for the record?” And do you get irony points for doing it with a Dodge Ram? What does that insurance claim look like?
This actually happened just after 3 a.m., Saturday September 16, on Taft Place in Buffalo. (It’s been variously reported that the driver hit ten, eleven, or twelve cars; we like the sound of an even dozen.) No one was injured, and the driver was arrested. We won’t mention his name, so we don’t have to use the word “alleged.” Security cameras recorded the incident, and the attack-vehicle’s owner was caught running from his totaled truck.
The driver was apparently coming from Colonie Lounge—which TV news stations refer to as a gentleman’s club, but most people call a strip joint. Dancers have been discreetly disrobing on Hertel Avenue at Voorhees, around the corner from Taft Place, since the 1960s. Having survived an earlier attempt to close the business down, the owner claims to run a tight ship. According to the Buffalo News, its closest neighbor agrees. Among other praise, Margaret Moriarity states that, “…the owners of the bar themselves have been good neighbors and that she feels safe knowing they're there. They are quick to respond to complaints and they keep their property clean and in good repair.” It was Colonie security guards who apprehended the drunk driver.
But other neighbors claim this multiple collision is just the latest—and worst—in a series of disturbing incidents caused by Colonie Lounge patrons. It’s the standard bar-neighbor grievance list: loud talking, vomit, public urination, discarded condoms, the occasional stray pair of underwear. There’s even a Facebook page called Colonie Watch where neighbors and club representatives level accusations at each other for all to read. Best line goes to the Colonie owner: “One would not move near an airport if you did not like airplanes.” For similarly rousing dialogue, you can also check Colonie’s own Facebook page.
A fine place
We wondered what kind of business this really is, so we went to Yelp for answers. Customers give Colonie three and a half stars. The following are actual blurbs, just as they appear in customer reviews:
• I'm not really exactly sure as to how I end up at the Colonie so often but I'm not really that mad about it because it's oddly fun. If you want to have a good time and chill while chain smoking this is definitely the place.
• When NYS legalizes maryjane$ I hope that they allow puffin', because there's nothin I love more than a smoke and a fine lady.
• I liked it coz first: it was the first time I've ever been to one and second: the latina was hot! so 4stars just for that!
• By way of comparison to other strip clubs (internationally at that)*, the strippers don't have that vacant eastern european stare, that brazilian desperation, that crystal meth atlantan (atlantonian?) shake or that Vegas-style sweet smell of Love's Baby Soft. What they do have is that Buffy extra layer of warmth, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
Unfortunately, many regular bars and nightclubs garner the same complaints. Are they responsible for the actions of their customers? Does the presence of ecdysiasts (and their fans) make them more responsible? Your thoughts?
In the October issue of Buffalo Spree there is a roundtable interview with three panelists discussing the previously announced Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) expansion plans. The article focuses on the controversy—largely among preservationists—surrounding architectural firm OMA’s concept design released last June. As the issue was hitting mailboxes, the museum announced (on Monday) that it’s hiring two preservation firms to help guide the continuing process.
According to the gallery, Buffalo-based group Preservation Studios, and New York City-based PBDW Architects will "review and adjust this initial concept, to make progress toward the first iteration of an architectural design." AKAG representatives state that this was always the plan. Here, I would like to coin a new phrase: “Don’t Spicer me bro.” Last June, after the concept design was revealed, the architect announced that revised drawings that better reflect the plan would be presented this month. There was no mention of preservationist involvement. The AKAG also just announced another series of public meetings, further suggesting that it’s (literally) going back to the drawing board.
To borrow a phrase, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
If you visit the Elmwood Village by car, come prepared. The must-have checklist includes neon sunglasses, rugged urban sneakers, and a tape measure. Yes, a tape measure.
Since Buffalo eliminated alternate side parking from April 2 to November 14 on many Elmwood Village streets, the city has been making up for lost parking violation revenue by zealously enforcing previously overlooked laws. Certain citations have increased five times more in the Elmwood Village than in other neighborhoods. A big favorite is cars parked within twenty feet of a crosswalk. That’s the crosswalk, not the corner—twenty feet! There are no signs to mark the cutoff, so that’s where the tape measure comes in. Another popular ticket goes to cars parked more than twelve inches from the curb. Now you might wonder: does this mean from where the curb was originally, or to where it has crumbled back, or to where it is now buried? Better play it safe. Hydrants? Fifteen feet. Other targeted neighborhoods include downtown Buffalo, Allentown, and Hertel.
In their own way, gentrified neighborhoods get targeted, too.
Saving the Richmond Methodist Church
Forty years ago, my wife and I bought and restored a Queen Anne Victorian house on Auburn Avenue near Richmond. We love old architecture, and value the character of the West Side. We stopped going to a popular Elmwood Avenue restaurant the day the owner demolished a significant building to expand.
Rachel Heckl is a young woman trained in urban planning who has a similar affection for Buffalo’s historic architecture and the character of its neighborhoods. She’s been renovating her West Ferry Street house—a former parsonage for the vacant Methodist Church, across the street on Richmond—since 2009. So I was excited to learn three years ago that Heckl was also renovating the historic church itself, turning it into an arts center with much-needed dance facilities and cultural offices, and a detached art gallery and apartments in the rear. Heckl is not a deep-pocket developer planning to radically alter a neighborhood. To design the gallery and apartments, she brought in one of Buffalo’s most socially conscious architects, Brad Wales.
The church had been vacant for twenty years and steadily deteriorating, even as it was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Restoring it presented innumerable hurtles, including stifling bureaucracy, unexpected construction problems, and daunting funding challenges. It’s enough to pound the optimism out of the most starry-eyed idealist. Heckl has persisted, though much slower than she had hoped. This year, developer Sam Savarino joined her, bringing extensive experience, and a track record that unlocked added funding.
Buffalo’s recently enacted Green Code was a boon to Heckl’s efforts. Her proposal to replace the existing storage garage with a gallery and eight apartments boosts the overall project’s long term viability, while addressing the need for housing. It precisely contributes to what the Green Code is intended to achieve: an urban fabric comprised of houses and stacked units, interspersed with commercial and cultural buildings that generate activity.
Heckl explored dozens of layout iterations to find a workable model that lenders would fund. She conferred with neighbors, potential occupants, investors, foundations, and banks. She consulted experts in various fields, particularly Andrew Delmonte at the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State College. She studied models from other cities. The resulting plan is a public/private partnership with a complex $13 million dollar funding mix that keeps rents affordable for artists.
To widen road access for fire codes, and potentially provide set-back off-street parking, Heckl must demolish an adjoining house she owns on Ferry—a shell, stripped of historical value and sided with fake brick. Feedback from two meetings with area neighbors strongly supported the demolition. After widening the road, the remaining space will be fronted with a vest pocket park designed by Wales. As with every urban proposal that entails demolition, there was a negative reaction by some preservationists. For complete transparency, Heckl’s team voluntarily provided the Preservation Board with confidential financial information regarding the essential demolition and contingent funding. Heckl followed State Environmental Quality Review Act procedures once more, which again postponed a review by the Buffalo Planning Board.
Heckl has also striven for transparency with neighbors, and though the plan has taken many twists and turns, the general concept has not changed. However, one neighbor and tenant object to the rear apartments adding two stories instead of one as earlier thought, onto the gallery in the back. Their primary concern is shade the building will cast on their backyard. However, an independent study commissioned by Wales determined that the increase would be only two percent annually.
There has been much hyperbolic misinformation disseminated, along with opinionating and advice from people who lack the necessary experience and information. An often-repeated statement is that the apartments will be ten inches from the neighbor’s property and forty-one foot tall, both true. That’s where the garage is now, sixty feet from the neighbor’s house, and the new apartments will rise to the same height as the house, well within Green Code standards. There have been claims that the building exceeds apartment density guidelines. Untrue; the Green Code actually allows for eleven apartments. Heckl’s team held several neighborhood meetings, and made numerous architectural adjustments to address concerns, adding to delays that have consumed most of yet another construction season.
Enough already! Why does Buffalo make it so difficult for people who want to make a positive difference? Change can be hard for some, but it’s time for this project to move forward. We should all be applauding Heckl.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a regular contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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