As predicted in a post of Sept. 29, the owner of the historic John O'Flanagan House at 171 Niagara Street, pleaded guilty today in Buffalo Housing Court to all 19 building code violations filed against it through a Sept. 14 inspection the owner had asked for. The city, cooperating with the owner, expedited the case, going directly for an arraignment, rather than a hearing, which is the usual course of action. The owner's attorney also submitted a "microbiological report" on the building, which purportedly showed the building was infested with mold. The attorney stated it was to expensive to remediate.
Judge Henry Nowak then asked what the owner, 4771 Dewey Avenue, Inc. (a shell corporation set up by Acquest Development, developer of the IRS building and parking garage adjacent to the O'Flanagan House) proposed be done. The attorney flatly stated that the owner wanted the building condemned by the city and demolished.
Nowak asked the city attorney and the owner's attorney whether the building had any historic designation. The city attorney offered that it might be adjacent to a local historic district. Nowak then told the owner's attorney that he would not issue a demolition order on the building and advised the owner, if he sought demolition, to initiate with the normal demolition process. If successful, that would address the violations by eliminating the house and the case would be dismissed. If unsuccessful, the violations would have to be fixed.
Nowak asked if the house had any historic designation. The city attorney present said it might be adjacent to a historic district (the West Village). Your correspondent handed the city attorney a note stating that the building was under Section 106 review (National Historic Preservation Act) as a building considered National Register Eligible for planning purposes, and that any demo would lead to a finding of foreclosure by the federal government, which may prevent the developer from receiving leases and rents. So a legal demolition seems inlikely.
An illegal demolition is another matter (remember the Bank of Buffalo Building!). "Accidents" do happen. There is a lot of heavy equipment on-site. There could be a fire. "Vandals" might trash the place. Proving that the owner was responsible for any of this would be difficult. Hence, no penalty.
What happens now? The owner's attorney said they will apply for a demo permit, which will trigger a review by the city Preservation Board. It is unlikely, according to discussions your correspondent had with board chair John Laping, that the board would agree to demolition. Then, unless the building is offered for sale, it is back in court, where the owner can drag things out for years. More likely, the owner will bring matters to a head so that the completion of the parking ramp could be synchronized with the opening of the IRS building.