Long Story Short: Trouble in the hood
Illustration by JP Thimot
A tale of two neighborhoods
It’s been widely reported that Hertel Avenue has undergone a recent development boom, with fresh businesses moving into old storefronts and gleaming new buildings popping up at intersections. At the same time, the Elmwood Village business district has experienced a slump, with an increasing number of empty storefronts. Such downturns tend to be cyclical, and the causes myriad, but Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN) and the Elmwood Village Association (EVA) are taking positive steps to address the situation.
What’s the plan?
This fall, the National Main Street Center (NMSC) will begin a market analysis and planning process for the Elmwood Village business district through its Urban Main program. Since 1980, the NMSC has assisted more than 2,000 communities in developing and implementing market-driven strategies to encourage a prosperous balance of growth and preservation. NMSC consultants will collect data, survey community members, and meet with stakeholders. There will be one public forum in October and another at the completion of the study in January.
So, everyone’s onboard, right?
Niagara District Councilmember David Rivera, whose constituency includes the Elmwood Village between Ferry and Summer, provided funding for the analysis. So has Buffalo State Assemblymember Sean Ryan. But Delaware Councilmember Joel Feroleto, whose constituency includes the Elmwood Village from Forrest to Ferry, and much of the Hertel Avenue business district, has cold-shouldered the study without explanation.
This is what is known in everyday political parlance as a dick move.
Hertel champion, Elmwood antagonist
Feroleto, who ostensibly serves all his constituents, regularly gloats over the success of Hertel, while publicly chastising the Elmwood Village (EV). “Feroleto has gone on record blaming storefront vacancies on so-called 'NIMBYs' [not in my neighborhood] and a lack of parking,” says neighborhood activist Gretchen Cercone, “It’s disappointing that Councilmember Feroleto declined to assist with funding this important effort in our neighborhood.” Cercone, who co-administers the Residents of the Elmwood Village Facebook page, adds that despite Feroleto’s “frequent statements on the challenges facing business owners on Elmwood, he refused to take part in identifying root causes and finding solutions.”
What’s the problem?
When Feroleto blames Elmwood’s economic slowdown on “NIMBYs,” he’s referring to many of the residents in his own district; people who place a high value on those qualities that made the EV the largest National Register Historic District in New York State: such things as historic architecture, a mix of housing and small business, village-like charm, and walkability. These are also people who believe that Buffalo’s acclaimed Green Code Unified Development Ordinance should be honored, not routinely overridden whenever influential developers with truckloads of cash propose shiny new buildings. These so-called NIMBYs moved into the EV because they value a lifestyle that is now threatened by the gentrification frenzy that arrived with Buffalo’s “renaissance.”
In a recent Facebook post, Feroleto succinctly responded to an inquiry about a proposed partial demolition of a former synagogue with a single line: “Another great project on Hertel!” Cercone responded that the strength of all neighborhoods is certainly the goal, and asked Feroleto why his office is not helping to fund the NMSC study. She offered to share his response with concerned constituents. There was no reply.
“Hertel is booming,” exults Feroleto in a recent Buffalo Rising interview, “And Elmwood is fighting every project that is proposed.” There’s a reason for this. Every large-scale Elmwood project proposed violates Buffalo’s Green Code, which was produced at enormous expense over seven years and adopted with great fanfare and wide praise just last year. When developers begin submitting proposals that adhere to these painstakingly crafted guidelines—which should be the rule rather than the exception—they will meet with far less resistance.
Feroleto states, “Hertel is getting all the murals these days because the neighborhood loves them,” a hyperbolic declaration fit for the age of Trump. With murals springing up in abundance all over the city, Hertel hardly has a corner on the market, though Feroleto does financially support their creation. Which prompts the question: why won’t he support Elmwood’s efforts, which go well beyond wall decor?
Cercone expresses her gratitude to Councilmember David Rivera and Assemblymember Sean Ryan “for stepping up and securing thousands of dollars in funding to make this [NMSC] study a reality." Feroleto’s district stands to gain the most from the study. But the councilmember believes it comes down to a simple formula: Hertel good; Elmwood bad.
Long Stories Shorter
Coke or no coke?
Tonawanda Coke filed court documents last week claiming that if their coke ovens are shut down temporarily in advance of a scheduled October 10 probation hearing, the plant will never reopen. That’s because the oven walls will deteriorate, and the cost is too high to rebuild them. This would mean a loss of many local jobs, which is sad. But the company was convicted of environmental crimes in 2013, and it’s currently charged with violating emissions standards nearly 120 times between May 18 and July 6, for a total of 176 probation violations. State Department of Environmental Conservation officials say Tonawanda Coke has harmed the health of the community and the environment, and they want the company shut down. Lawyers for Tonawanda Coke now claim that their first priority is fixing the problems “for all of its stakeholders, including the community,” before expending resources to defend the company at the scheduled hearing.
Yeah, now they want to do the right thing.
People are okay
There’s a tendency to expect the worst of people. Trust in fellow humans often seems in short supply. But evidence that most folks are honest can be found in a little roadside vegetable and plant stand on Oatka Road in the heart of Trump country, Perry New York. The covered stall is usually unattended. People pay for the farm-fresh foods day or night by sliding money into a small lock-box. No one steals the box.
I’ve often wondered if people sometimes fail to pay. Turns out, not really. I happened to be there when the owners’ father was stocking the stand, and I mentioned that sometimes I don’t have exact change, so I have to leave without something. “That’s why we have note pad by the box,” said the farmer (who sports a ZZ Top beard), “put an IOU in the box.” “You can do that?” I asked. “People do it all the time,” he replied, and they always pay up, and sometimes it even works in the other direction: “A woman put a $20-dollar bill in the box and left a note saying she only took $3 dollars’ worth of food.” Later, the woman left another note saying she had taken a few more dollars’ worth, and so on, until she spent the twenty. The honor system seems to work just fine, because most people are honest.
Last October, when the Republican-led Office of Congressional Ethics issued a report saying there was “substantial reason to believe” that Congressman Chris Collins had engaged in a form of illegal insider trading, they didn’t establish a Special Investigative Subcommittee, as they normally would. Since then, Collins was indicted, triggering a requirement under House rules to set up an investigative subcommittee or explain why it doesn’t. But the Justice Department has asked them to hold off on the subcommittee until the criminal case wraps up.
Since he was charged, Republicans have been working on schemes to remove Collins’ name from the November ballot. If that fails, he could still win the election in his heavily Republican-gerrymandered district. There is no law against it, and he could even serve from prison. But then the congressional subcommittee could recommend that Collins be censured or expelled from office.
Expelled from office. Presumably there would then be a special election. Call this Plan B.
Buffalo is not Toronto
A Buffalo News article on Toronto real estate investors, Jeff, Leslie, and Paul Wynn, spotlights the brothers’ spectacular renovation of the former Buffalo Athletic Club on Delaware Avenue. The siblings own over 6000 apartments in Canada, the United States, and Israel, and hotels in the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. But they are increasingly turning to Buffalo for redevelopment opportunities. "We're looking for much larger acquisitions in the city right now,” Jeff Wynn says in the article. “The city is taking off now, but it's really going to take off in the next five to ten years."
One particular passage in the article really caught our attention: “The best part about Buffalo for Wynn? ‘It's not Toronto,’ he said. ‘Toronto is congested. It's overbuilt. It's expensive and very tough to live there. It's stressful.’ By contrast, in Buffalo, ‘it’s easy to invest. Tenants are great. People are easygoing. The food scene is amazing, and the architecture is incredible,’ he said. ‘It’s a city that is seeing a nice renaissance.’"
For many decades Toronto has seemed like everything Buffalo might have been—could have been—if this or that had gone differently. It’s interesting to see Buffalo at this moment in time, through the eyes of three very successful Toronto residents.
A shot in the dark
In a previous article, Long Story Short noted the extreme statistical unlikelihood of any individual student being killed in a dreaded school shooting, while much more common forms of childhood fatality are overlooked. After the Parkland shootings, there were calls to make schools “harder targets,” which some experts say is the opposite of what should be done. Recently, there have been reports that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—who once suggested that K-12 schools need guns to ward off grizzly bear attacks—is considering a proposal to arm schools, using Federal Enrichment grants intended to help pay for a “well-rounded education” and enhance digital literacy.
In February, WKBW reported that, “a local firearms training and security firm on Grand Island, called Defensor Inc., is already training teachers from Ohio so they can carry a concealed gun in the classroom.” Lockport school district is putting the finishing touches on its multi-million-dollar facial recognition camera system, which will achieve nothing except attract the ire of the New York Civil Liberties Union over privacy rights issues. In March, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said he will assign his assistant district attorneys to act as liaisons to every school district across Erie County. At the same time, the director of the National School Resource Officers, Mo Canady, spoke on the subject at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts. He contends that federal, state, and local governments should fund armed and trained school resource officers to occupy every school building across the nation.
To respond to the hysteria surrounding gun violence in schools, you must start with sound data. This spring, the US Education Department issued a report on the number of school shootings that occurred in the 2015-2016 school year across United States. “Nearly 240 schools…reported at least one incident involving school-related shooting,” it claims. This includes incidents anywhere on school grounds, or on school busses. Considering that there are 132,656 schools in the country, that’s a low number, but for some people, it’s enough to bolster the notion of having teachers pack heat.
The shots that never happened
Over the course of three months, National Public Radio contacted every one of the schools listed to confirm the information published through Education Department Civil Rights Data Collection. Last Monday, they released their findings: they were able to confirm just eleven reported incidents. One hundred sixty-one schools where a shooting was alleged to take place attested that no such incident had occurred. Four incidents were miscategorized. And the rest were unable to be confirmed after numerous attempts, including through direct contact with the schools, and through published reports. So, eleven confirmed incidents out of 132,656 schools. The Education Department says it relies on school districts to provide accurate information in the survey responses, but to be this far off, the data collection tools must be very flawed, leading one to wonder how reliable is the rest of the data?
The final shot
Education Department officials say they have no plans to republish the existing publication.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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