The demolition work at the former St. John the Baptist Church in Black Rock has been halted, thanks to the timely intervention of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Buffalo Commissioner of Permits and Inspection Services James Comerford dispatched inspector Tracy Krug to the site at 62 Hertel Avenue shortly after 7:00 AM upon receiving a call from Tim Tielman of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, who was on-site. Tielman approached a group of contract workers from Cambar Contracting and informed them that no permit had been issued for the work on the landmark, no review by the Preservation Board had occurred, and that they would be advised to stop work. The foreman refused, pending arrival of City officials and Buffalo Police, but no further demo occurred in the time it took the City inspector to arrive and shut the job down. Comerford confirmed that a written stop-work order will be delivered this afternoon.
Shortly before the inspector's arrival, a Cambar supervisor arrived on-site and brandished a letter to Tielman from Siracuse Engineers, which allegedly summarized hazardous conditions in the tower. The decision to demolish without permission, rather than mitigate the hazard in some other fashion pending resolution through proper channels, was apparently made North Gate, an evangelical organization that is is partnering with the owners of record, RiverRock Church. RiverRock Church split the property in two pieces, selling the parish house to 60 Hertel LLC to the Mosaic 659 Foundation. Mark Herskind, a trustee of Mosaic 659, which is registered at the same address as his residence, is a significant supporter of local evangelical Christian enterprises, including Jericho Road Community Center, which River Road also claims as a "partner."
North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group that is expanding into the city with this project. North Gate is funding a large project there with a deadline of November 1st, an organization staffer on-site revealed. That is driving the pace of the work. When Tielman offered that arbitrary deadlines shouldn't drive improprieties, he was told by the North Gate representative that "It is God's deadline."
The North Gate representative feigned ignorance of the need for permits. Evidently, in Clarence people are allowed to undertake potential asbestos removal and disposal, demolition of historic structures, and excavation work related to the public water supply without permits.
On top of all this, major masonry repointing has occurred without review. It is unknown if the mortar mix used matches the original specifications of architects Oakley & Schallmo, who are perhaps the greatest masters of brick architecture the city has produced. New copper flashing is in evidence as well, but again, without review, the public has no knowledge of whether this or any other work was properly done.
The goal at Hertel and East must be to immediately stop further deterioration and issue plans for the full restoration of the tower. This will now take more money and time than it would have, but North Gate must commit to it, and commit to following the laws of the City of Buffalo henceforth.
[This post has been updated to correct ownership information.]