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Long Story Short: Walkability, ’weck, and Wilson


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An East Side development fight continues

Two weeks ago, LSS told you about an attempt by an East Side block club to stop Ellicott Development from building a drive-thru as part of a Tim Horton’s Coffee and Bake Shop on Michigan Avenue at the corner of William Street. The primary concern of the 100 homeowners surrounding the Michigan Avenue African American Corridor was the walkability of their neighborhood. “We have so many individuals that walk;” explains Copper Town Block Club president Gail Wells, “They park their cars and walk downtown to get to work or the library. And there are accidents—horrendous accidents. We have accidents where cars are flipped over; one car ran into a bus stop. And there are entrances to two major expressways up on Michigan, Elm, and Oak.”


They failed at the Zoning Board of Appeals to have Buffalo’s Green Code enforced, due to what appears to be a misapplication of the zoning law. Then they failed to persuade the Planning Board to deny the developer the right to overlook elements of Buffalo’s Comprehensive Plan. With the development proposal now improved, they hired an attorney and went to court, claiming that the Planning Board had not followed its own procedure. That’s where our story ended.


How did that turn out?

In short, they lost.


"While he could find no basis to overturn the Planning Board's approval, State [Supreme Court Justice Mark] Grisanti commented from the bench that the process used by the City may need improvement,’ says Copper Town attorney Stephanie Adams (my daughter-in-law), “He directed that his comments about the process be made part of the Order...an unusual move, and one we take as a recognition of underlying concerns.  The process, as presented in our papers, clearly showed that Copper Town wasn't given a fair chance to advocate for the safety and walkability of its neighborhood."


Next steps

Gail Wells and her band of activists are not letting this setback stop them from further efforts to hold the city accountable for enforcing its highly touted Green Code, which should apply not just to the little guy seeking a variance for a parking pad (he won’t get it), but also to the big developers who routinely have their way with the Zoning and Planning Boards.


They demand a process that engages citizens early on without pressure tactics and recognizes that residents who invest in their properties are developers, too. They want readable site plans and answers to questions. One idea they put forward is a city-appointed ombudsman to act as a community liaison and walk citizens through the convoluted approval process. But they would also be happy to see the process simplified, eliminating the problems Judge Grisanti alludes to.


They would like greater adherence to the Green Code, which was developed over many years at enormous cost, and has been praised nationally as a model for other cities. And they would like city leaders to consider the long-term impact of development on the people who have made Buffalo their home. They want progressive development that does more than make money for the developers.


Citizens organizing to reclaim their city

Many of these concerns are shared by groups like the Green Code Watch and Design Block on Facebook. This might be the moment when these groups form a united citizen front. The Copper Town Block Club is proposing what they are calling the 2019 Green Code Platform.  Your thoughts are welcome.



The definition of irony

Note the following sentence from the previous item: “The primary concern of the 100 homeowners surrounding the Michigan Avenue African American Corridor was the walkability of their neighborhood.”


The same day Supreme Court Justice Mark Grisanti was handing down his ruling against the 100 homeowners, there was an article in the Buffalo News that started with this sentence: “Imagine a whole new look for Ellicott Street—one that's enticing and inviting from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to Sahlen Field.”


Yeah, imagine

Ellicott is two streets west of Michigan. Two streets, but because Ellicott runs through the medical campus, walkability is recognized as a top priority in a way it clearly isn’t on Michigan. "We think Ellicott Street has a ton of potential," said Brandye Merriweather, vice president for downtown development at the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation in the News article, "You’ve got a lot of pieces there for a great urban neighborhood, and that’s what we’re trying to bring out."


Who’s in and who’s out

The article states that they want to make downtown more inviting for the “kind of younger technology workers that M&T Bank is bringing to Seneca One, and the kind of economy that the city wants to create.” But apparently not for the African American residents who held down the East Side during years of government and developer neglect.


The article gets more annoying as it goes on: “What's being called the ‘Ellicott Street Node’ is actually a corridor from Tupper to Swan streets, traveling through a neighborhood that is already seeing redevelopment, new restaurants and breweries and an increase in visitors.” Yeah, and this development is triggering the start of East Side gentrification, even as the wishes of the people facing the strain of redevelopment are marginalized.


The rest of the article is all about “importance,” “opportunity,” “buildings that are ripe for transformation,” and “bang for your [public funding] buck.” The article was on the front page of the News business section, because determining which group receives attention and which group is neglected is, after all, just business.



Another Buffalo food hits the bigtime

Last week we told you about a national food critic who considers Buffalo pizza to be the best in the world. But Buffalo didn’t invent pizza. We invented chicken wings as a snack (though mother nature put wings on the red junglefowl, and we humans bred them down to their current useless-for-flying state). Now there’s another Buffalo food that is getting some overdue national attention.


The details:

A recent article in the online journal Eater has this headline: Beef on Weck Is Buffalo’s Best Contribution to the Culinary World. That’s beef on kummelweck for you outsiders, a soft roll with a hard crust, topped with salt and caraway seeds. Kummel is German for “caraway” and ’weck means "roll" in a southwestern German dialect. This bread product was invented in Buffalo by a German baker named William Wahr, and by the mid-eighteen-hundreds the sandwich we all know and love was invented, though no one knows for sure by whom. Schwabl’s restaurant has served beef on ’weck for at least 100 years before the invention of the Buffalo chicken wing. But don’t count on finding the rolls anywhere outside of Western New York. Bakers in other cities tend to look at you like you’re from another planet if you ask for them by name.


When is a sandwich not a sandwich?

Sooner or later, all good things are bastardized. Take chicken wings for instance. Aside from the semi-authentic bottled wing sauce that can now be purchased around the world, there are a host of Buffalo chicken wing-flavored products: Buffalo Wing All Natural Chicken Sticks, Classic Hot Wing Ruffles, Hot Chicken Wing and Wasabi Oreos, Vegan Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip (I mean, really!), French's Sweet Buffalo Mustard (made with Frank’s hot sauce), Snyder’s Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces, and Tim Horton’s Buffalo Wing Latte (I kid you not).


Spins on the classic

You might think it would be hard to debauch something as straight-forward as beef on ’weck, but you’d be wrong. The story goes on to say that Local Kitchen & Beer Bar is serving a beef on ’weck spring roll that adds cheddar cheese. Seabar (which, sadly is closing soon) has long had a beef on ’weck sushi roll. Babcia’s Pierogi includes a beef on ’weck option among its twenty-three choices. Dwyer’s Irish Pub offers beef on ’weck wings, which sounds to me something like skateboard doorknobs. But, you know, why not?



Ephemeral vibrations

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who love Brian Wilson’s Beachboy masterpiece Pet Sounds, and those who have never heard it. For quite a while now, Wilson and his crack ensemble have been playing the entire Pet Sounds album live on tour. This is no easy task, since the music is extremely complex, employing a multitude of instruments.


Last Wednesday Wilson appeared at Artpark, in the first performance of what is billed as the final Pet Sounds and greatest hits tour. Despite being a longtime fan, I had never seen Wilson in concert, so I jumped on this opportunity to hear the songs played live one last time and pay homage to a true icon of American pop music. The concert had been postponed from June, when Wilson—who is widely known for his battle with mental illness—announced that he was feeling “mentally insecure” and needed to head home to recuperate.


As if to pound home the finality of the rescheduled event, Guitarist Nicky Wonder (Nick Walusko) died overnight in Buffalo on the day of the concert. Wilson, who had to be helped onstage by two assistants, paid tribute to Wonder and said that the rest of the group agreed that he would have wanted the show to go on. The band was only unable to perform one instrumental song from Pet Sounds without Wonder. So multi-instrumentalist Paul Von Mertens told one of the jokes the fallen guitarist was known for instead. Behind Von Mertens, on an elevated platform, Wonder’s guitars silently rested on their stands next to a bouquet of flowers.


Wilson himself seemed fragile as he sat stiff and expressionless behind his piano. His voice was shaky, his keyboard was inaudible, but none of that mattered. Here was the legendary musical genius, majestically overseeing his widely acclaimed masterpiece, expertly performed by his friends, for an adoring audience. The lineup included original Beachboy Al Jardine (who was in fine voice), sometime Beachboy Blondie Chaplin (a killer guitarist himself), and Jardine's son Matt (who undeniably inherited the family pipes). The harmonies were as glorious as one would expect from Beachboy music, and when the band broke into Good Vibrations, I felt the waves penetrate my heart. 


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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